Monday, March 25, 2013

Intel's entry-level audience measurement service is now free

Intel's AIM Suite (Silver Edition) is now available for free.  This software-as-a-service (SaaS) audience measurement platform can provide basic information such as:

  • Face detection and number of people who saw a message.
  • How long each detected viewer looked at a message
  • HTTP API: The data collected by the AIM Suite can be retrieved and stored in your own database for further analysis
  • 3 Months of data storage on Intel's servers
  • 24 AIM Analytics Reports

This is a great way to become familiar with this great audience analysis tool at no cost or you can order a free trial of the full featured AIM Suite Gold Edition for 90 days.

So what will you need to get started?

Your digital signage player PC should run on a Intel Core i3, 2.4 GHz or faster processor (3.2 GHz is preferred), any version of Microsoft Windows up to Windows 7, Ubuntu 11 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.2, 4 Gb of RAM for Windows Vista or Windows 7 (2 Gb for all other operating systems), 20 Gb of free hard drive space.

You will also need a USB webcam to capture the data.  Recommended models are Logitech C910, C920 or QuickCam Pro 9000.  Other cameras from Axis and Panasonic are also supported.

A camera set to a resolution of 640x480 can detect faces at a distance of 25 feet.  The distance can be increased via the camera's resolution settings.  Obviously, proper lighting is a must to ensure adequate audience detection.  The AIM Suite works best under a brightly lit and evenly illuminated indoor environment such as what you would find in a typical supermarket.

It's important to note the AIM Suite does not record any personal information.  It uses anonymous sensors to record broad parameters such as gender and age range, viewing times and duration.  No faces are recorded or archived.

The AIM Suite is supported by many digital signage software vendors, including the Flypaper content development platform.  For example, Flypaper users can integrate their content with AIM Suite and trigger content based on the audience's gender.

Audience measurement tools like Intel's AIM Suite are becoming increasingly important for advertising firms and brand owners as media playback data is not the most accurate measure of campaign effectiveness.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Will social networking kill corporate digital signage?

I recently read a commentary on that asked the question "Are corporate digital signage networks dead?" and it got me thinking...  Are we missing the point?

The fact is, many organisations rely on more than one channel to communicate with their employees.  We already have intranets, bulletin boards and digital signage.  Social media is just one more tool.  It's not a replacement for existing tools, it's one more piece of the puzzle.

It's important to note one of the biggest headache when launching a digital signage network is where to find good content and how to keep the information relevant and fresh.

One easy solution: Display content from the company's own intranet.  This way existing content is re-purposed and made available to folks who may not have easy access to the corporate network (factory workers for example).

Adding a live data feed from the company's social media network is another excellent way to keep your staff informed on the latest news from co-workers and management.  Social media is nothing more than a continuous source of current information.  This is why smart digital signage operators should rely on it to feed their screens.

photo credit: occhiovivo via photopin cc

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thinking of designing interactive kiosk applications? Read on...

One of my first multimedia project was designing an interactive information kiosk for a big Canadian retail chain.  This was back in 2001 and there were few really good multimedia authoring tools.  You had your pick of Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash and Designer.  In those days you had no choice but to learn the application's native scripting language and forge ahead.  Flash had ActionScript and Designer had Lingo.  This was before Java and Web 2.0 tools took off.

I designed my kiosk in Flash and learned the application's the scripting language but I wished I could spend more time designing and less time coding.  I didn't really want to become a programmer.

Seems each new release of Flash brought in more coding options and with it more complexity for people who just want to focus on their application's design and usability.   Flash was becoming an online media delivery system and Director became a game development tool.

So what could a designer to do?  They could learn the necessary programming languages or partner up with  programmers.  Partnering is not always a good option.  Programmers aren't designers so there is a lot of time wasted just in communicating back and forth.  This can often lead to higher development costs and project delays.

There had to be a more efficient way.

I tried many software applications that let you create Flash content without (much) coding but none was really geared towards interactive content development.  They were mostly good for creating web sites and scrolling text banners.  I needed something "commercial grade" so I kept looking and eventually I found Flypaper.

Flypaper lets designers create high quality interactive applications quickly and efficiently.  There is no coding involved which means designers can concentrate on the look and feel of their applications.  The content can also be modified and re-published very easily and the results is exported as either Flash or video.

If your project requirements exceed the built-in capabilities of Flypaper, you can simply import third-party Flash content.  Designers can also connect their applications to external data sources like Google Docs, Google Calendar, CSV files, PHP and .NET with no coding.

Flypaper is a really useful tool for any digital signage and interactive kiosk project.  Flypaper's built-in components lets designers focus on the end-product while the software handles all the back-end programming.  Adding buttons, clocks and weather forecasts is as simple as drag and drop.

This is not my first article about Flypaper but I really believe it's one of the best all-around multimedia/interactive content development tool on the market.

It's part of my content development toolkit and I highly recommend it.

 photo credit: jessleecuizon via photopin cc

Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 Digital Signage Expo Review

I attended the DSE in Las Vegas last week and here are some observations...

Is the PC dead?

Lots of software folks were showing Android based solutions.  There was also a lot of activity around the Samsung Smart TV hardware that will be supported initially by Broadsign, signagelive, Four Winds Interactive and Wireless Ronin.  There was also some buzz about the Raspberry Pi hardware being used in digital signage.

So what does this mean for the traditional PC player?

Well, there have been many non-PC based hardware solutions on the market for a while and that hasn't stopped PCs from powering most digital signage screens.

Android is probably going to take the lead in non-traditional PC hardware since it is so popular in smartphones and tablets.  The hardware keeps getting more powerful to the point it now rivals PCs in multimedia playback capabilities.

The biggest issue with Android will be finding hardware manufacturers that can deliver highly reliable commercial grade units.  The current crop of cheap, consumer grade Android players is probably not suitable for true 24/7, year-round use.

The Raspberry Pi is mostly aimed at hobbyists and students.  I am not aware of any commercial grade versions but this will probably change very soon.  I expect to see some type of commercial Raspberry Pi based DS solution before year's end.

What did the show tell us about the industry?

In previous DSE's you would find the big software vendor booths right at the entrance.  These were custom built affairs with elaborate layouts and lots of staff. The hardware guys would occupy smaller booths right behind the software vendors and their booths would be a bit more discrete.  You had a sense software "ruled".

Now, the roles are reversed.  The screen manufacturers are now front and center.  You walked into the show and you found  Samsung, LG, NEC with Sony and Philips not far behind.  Intel was there too with an very nice booth showing  innovative new technologies.  The NEC booth was a multi-level affair and there were some big bucks spent at the Samsung and LG booths.

The software guys were located further back.  The booths were smaller and more discrete.  Some were almost stripped-down to the bone (Wireless Ronin and NCR, to name a few).

So what's changed?

The software side of the business is now more mature.  Products have settled into their own niche and profits are probably lower.  This probably explains why software vendors are embracing any technology that lowers deployment costs. Software vendors can't spend their way into more market share, hence the reduced footprint.  There were a couple of exceptions.  Four Winds Interactive and Stratacache had larger and more elaborate booths than I had seen in past shows.

This year, hardware is king.  Screen manufacturers, processors, off-shore equipment manufacturers and even screen mounting hardware folks spent big money on lavish displays.

Used to be hardware was seen as more of a commodity.  It wasn't sexy but this is changing big-time.  Now it's all about innovation and reducing costs.

What about the hot technologies we've been reading about?

There was (thankfully) very little 3D shown at the show.  In fact I saw only two 3D screens and that was plenty.  This technology is simply not taking off.  It's expensive, content costs more to produce and it doesn't work.  If you need to be standing 15' and dead center from a 3D screen to get the effect then it's not suitable for public venues.  It's a gimmick and people aren't buying it.

I saw one booth promoting an e-paper solution.  It looks good as a replacement for black and white print material and not much else.  This will eventually take off but there are still details that need to be ironed out before this becomes mainstream.  Since e-readers have been around for a few years you would think we would have seen some traction in digital signage but it's not happening yet.  You would think E-paper would be great for exterior applications, especially in daytime but I had an e-reader screen go dark on me once because the sun beating down on it had overheated the display.  Not sure if that's the issue but I hope we see more of this technology in the near future.

I also saw some interesting flexible LED material that will be really great for large exterior applications.  You can wrap a building in this stuff (not cheap I am sure but what an impact that would make!).