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Mark Myerson

Avid photographer of no note whatsoever, and professional Facebook loather.

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Of all the major forms of digital communication, email is, perhaps, the most flexible. Yet, for the website owner, it still can’t be relied on, in its purest form, as the sole method of communication. Visitors still like the reassuring guidance of specified text fields, and in some cases, pre-defined options can make for a better user experience, not to mention more streamlined correspondence.

It is for this reason that form builders are as popular now as they’ve ever been. Veteran Wufoo has held the top spot for many years, thanks to its drag-and-drop design suite and elegant output. Other platforms — Gravity Forms (WordPress only), for example — carve out their own market share by providing special features, such as payments and multiple-input guards.

However, one new form-building service, named Formbakery, wants to keep things simple. It, too, offers drag-and-drop design, as well as a form-by-form price. But can it match up to the long-established giants of form creation?

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Retail is a seriously competitive game. Even the giants need to make use of every possible marketing advantage and every possible route to a sale. Nowadays, that includes mobile e-commerce, which is, by some distance, the platform that is seeing the fastest growth in sales and revenue.

As with all cutting-edge technologies, however, it is the big boys that have been making the most of this new retail territory, which is a shame, given the struggles many small businesses are having to cope with.

But, finally, help appears to be at hand. Dashsell, a company that has thus far concentrated on providing a simple way to list items for sale online, has now launched Shops — a beta, self-service, mobile store app builder. With plans starting from free, and with web, iOS and Android versions available, it looks ideal for the small retailer. But is this the killer platform that will open a new frontier? Or is it just another cookie-cutter app studio?

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I can’t say that the sudden rise of web-delivered digital magazines is a trend I foresaw. It was initially a by-product magazine renaissance that came with the mass ownership of touchscreen devices, but webzine publishing is now a niche in which many startups are willing to specialize.

This year, alone, I have personally reviewed the likes of Creatavist and Readymag, and been hugely impressed, whilst other platforms such as TypeEngine and Origami Engine — despite their names, both are more suited to talk than torque — are making significant headway, too.

My latest encounter with the format comes in the form of Beacon. With a simple approach to creation, publication and selling — even Beacon’s website is a one-pager — it should be the ideal platform for those who want to concentrate on content rather than configuration. But can it deliver the required quality to capture the attention of the reading public?

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The reasons for Myspace‘s fall from the zenith of social networking were the usual: neglect, user boredom, and a sparky new competitor offering an exciting, fresh alternative. Not terribly surprising. What has surprised me is the subsequent spooky quietness of the social music void that MySpace vacated.

Of all the would-be successors to MySpace, Last.fm has come the closest to being a direct replacement; but it provides poor listening options. Spotify and Grooveshark both have social aspects, although in both cases, the main focus is on music playing. And then there was Ping; as far as Apple is concerned, the less spoken about that car crash of a network, the better.

So it’s going to be interesting to see where new music discovery service Seevl fits in. With artist profiles, a comprehensive search engine, and integration with a plethora of streaming services, it looks well equipped to meet the needs of the contemporary listener. But can the app live up to its own, appealing feature list?

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It was only six months ago that I was testing, and seriously enjoying the newly released Barley, and its intuitive take on website management. Featuring tag-based installation, editing that is almost entirely inline, and a beautiful admin area, it has been a hit with web designers looking for a client-friendly option.

Now, however, Barley wants to encroach on the territory of another CMS. But not just any CMS – it wants to take on WordPress, via a plugin.

Few in the web industry would describe WordPress as the leanest editing machine, nor as the friendliest environment for the hapless, technophobic business owner. But can a plugin really outdo the system it is plugged into?

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Sifting, and searching, and scanning, and scrolling, and squinting. The latest headlines smother my timelines, but encountering a story that is of true interest is a chance event — which is why I usually turn to RSS. When in the company of my feeds, I only receive articles from publishers I can rely on to provide high quality, genuinely interesting content.

Unfortunately, this hand-picked approach is a bit of a closed shop. The likelihood is that I’ll miss great stories from publishers I don’t follow closely, and there’s the propensity for this setup to get a bit stale.

So, I’m interested to see if Sulia — a news recommendation platform that offers intelligent filtering by subject — can provide a suitable, more open alternative. But can diversity and precision really work well together?

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There once was a time when I followed gaming with verve and passion, soaking up every out-of-ten score in the Official Playstation Magazine, and cursing Nintendo for somehow making the latest Mario Kart game even more irritating than the last. But time has passed, and I no longer have my finger quite on the pulse.

However, I still do hear about most of the latest releases, one way or another, and I pay special attention to game launches with something interesting, unusual, or notable about them. A recent example was the launch of Zoo Tycoon, of which I learned thanks to my AppStorm colleague, Marius Masalar, and his fine taste in tweeting.

Whilst the sight of yet another Zoo Tycoon game was not terribly striking, the initiatives that Microsoft has taken, alongside the production of the game, are.

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I never did like Facebook. In fact, I only joined the benighted data-grabber two years after I started tweeting. Perhaps this reluctance was an indication of my desire to communicate, rather than staying up to date with my friends’ latest FarmVille scores. Maybe I didn’t want to be the plaything of an advertising network. Or, I suppose that Zuckerberg might have been right, and I really was so darned anti-social that I detested my friends and never wanted to see their annoying faces again [note: sarcasm].

All the same, I joined. And now, I’ve had enough.

Except, there’s a problem with the Facebook-leaving sentiment, however appealing, fashionable and written about it might be. When you delete your account (…he says, as if such a thing were possible…), you’ll still want to keep in touch with your close friends when you can’t see them, and with your relatives on the other side of the world, who still want to see your latest pictures. You’re going to have to find an alternative.

Okay, so let’s have a think. Ah, yes, of course: Google+.

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Paginated publishing is back. When we originally turned away from print in favour of the digital world, web formats ruled the roost. But sales of touchscreen devices have boomed in recent years, and the knock-on effect has been to return the most natural format for reading to the ascendancy.

This arrival at full circle has triggered a brand new kind of platform — the e-publishing CMS. We may be just three years into the tablet revolution, but there are already numerous options for the journalist or novelist wanting to self-publish digitally. Apple’s introduction of iBooks was followed by the launch of near-frictionless services such as Origami Engine, ReadyMag and Type Engine, and many more have arrived since. It is a seriously competitive market.

Yet, I think the outlook for Creatavist, a new “web-based storytelling platform,” is actually quite good. A mammoth array of content options awaits potential users of this beta offering, and it also has the backing of Nicholas Thompson, the editor of The New Yorker’s website — he co-founded the developing company, in fact. So, can this new kid on the block make a meaningful impression?

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The human brain really isn’t very good at processing masses of abstract data…well, I know mine isn’t, anyway. Brains can usually cope with a few things at one time (“must reply to that email once I get back from picking up the milk”), but when faced with a torrent of information, such as the web bombards us with, most brains start to struggle.

It is for this very reason that virtual dashboards have gained popularity. Developers recognize that even the most basic of web-apps, like a blog, can churn out a mass of data, which can only be seen with clarity if it is delivered in a human-friendly, visual format. Yet the idea of a personal dashboard, possibly the most useful matrix of this kind imaginable, still hasn’t really taken off, despite the traction that services such as iGoogle, My Yahoo and Netvibes gained in their early days.

Perhaps the smartphone has shoved the dashboard into outdatedness and redundancy. Or perhaps the desktop dashboard format just needs some reinvigoration. If the latter scenario is the more accurate, then Dash wants to be that reinvigoration. It is pretty, well connected and dynamic — but is it good enough to be your new homepage?

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