Sunday, August 14, 2011

Johnathan's Card: Start to Finish

If you have been following internet news this month, you have no doubt heard of the Johnathan's Card social experiment, in which Johnathan Stark offered a screenshot of his Starbucks Card mobile payment barcode for others to use in a "Take a Coffee, Give a Coffee" manner. The experiment lasted nearly a month with anonymous donations of over $9000 via reloading Johnathan's Starbucks Card. Thousands of people across the U.S. used the card to buy themselves Starbucks or to buy coffee or lunch at Starbucks for other less fortunate individuals. It was heralded as a revolutionary "pay-it-forward" social experiment and while I never used or reloaded it myself, I watched it unfold from the beginning and was planning to add support for Johnathan's Card to My Coffee Card for Android this weekend. I hoped to keep the experiment running with weekly donations of proceeds from My Coffee Card Pro to Johnathan's Card. However, Starbucks shut it down on Friday and I am writing this instead.

So why was it shut down? The answer is both simple and complex. The short answer is: it was being scammed by individuals transferring hundreds of dollars to their own personal Starbucks Cards. Read on for the much longer and more interesting answer.

When Johnathan's Card started, it was never created with the intention of the Take a Coffee, Give a Coffee revolution for which it has heralded. The card was loaded with a balance from Starks personal funds, in a social research experiment to see if users would do good by taking only what they need, or would they do bad and wipe the card out in a single transaction. It started well, and the card reached about half of its balance before someone emptied it and Johnathan reported that it was over.

Then, someone attempted to use the card and saw the balance was empty. In true Pay It Forward fashion, they loaded $10 of their own money on the card and tipped Johnathan off that the card could be reloaded anonymously via credit card or PayPal on the Starbucks website. Quickly the tune changed to the "Take a Coffee, Give a Coffee" or "Pay It Forward" experiment everyone is familiar with. It was heavily marketed and spread throughout the internet like a wildfire. A Twitter feed was set up to watch the progress and an API was available with up-to-the-minute information for more complex uses.

Starbucks involvement/Conspiracy Theory
Starks' company, Mobiquity, had a partners page on their website which listed Starbucks as one of their partners. When asked about Starbucks involvement in this or other projects, the page was quickly removed which started a conspiracy theory that Starbucks may have been involved in the whole thing from the start as a viral marketing campaign. This theory was denied by both Johnathan Stark and Starbucks. Stark says Starbucks had nothing to do with it. It was his own idea and experiment for his own project. Starbucks said that while the experiment is against their Starbucks Card terms of use, which disallows sharing of your registered Starbucks Card, they were excited to watch it from the sidelines.

The page listing Starbucks as a partner on the Mobiquity site was removed and Johnathan denounced naysayers in a steamed internet rant on Facebook and comments on various blogs. Starbucks involvement was again questioned when anonymous comments in support of the experiment showed up on blogs with the comments originating from a Starbucks owned IP address. Additionally, the partners page was removed from Googles cache, thus erasing history again, as was done at the turn of the experiment.

If Starbucks was not involved, their marketing department is probably wondering why they didn't think of it. Over the month long experiment/campaign, it significantly boosted mobile payments in-store, a huge focus for Starbucks right now; it introduced mobile payments to people that may have never used it otherwise, a huge focus of retailers, banks, smartphone manufactures and startups such as Mobiquity; and it brought hundreds of new or infrequent customers into the store. Involved or not, Starbucks was a huge beneficiary.

Personally, I could care less if Starbucks was involved or not. The experiment in its second incarnation, was used by thousands, sometimes for free Starbucks, sometimes for selfless acts and was loaded with over $9000 by anonymous donations. It was a successful social experiment, which many believed in (myself included), regardless of how it started. Note to Johnathan Stark and Mobiquity: Covering up facts and history is no way to make a point, just tell the truth.

The scandal
Johnathan's Card had a Twitter live stream which updated frequently, giving the balance throughout the day and alerting when the card was low or empty. There was also an API that provided up-to-the-minute balance information to third-party applications, such as the four Johnathan's Card apps for Android or a graph that shows the balance over the course of the experiment. Unfortunately, is was also used maliciously. A script was written and distributed which would watch the card balance via the API and play a song from your iTunes library when the balance is above a configured threshold. If you were on the Starbucks website, sitting at the ready, you could transfer those funds immediately to another card when the buzzer goes of, Instead of checking the available funds before getting in line, ordering and hoping there was still money on the card by the time you made it through the line, it became a battle of who could siphon the funds the fastest. Some were able to siphon hundreds of dollars worth.

Sam Odin, one of which was involved in siphoning funds, came forward saying he was able to transfer $625 onto two cards of his own. Enough to buy an iPad he claimed. Sam who is being called a modern day Robin Hood, didn't agree with the experiment, referring to it as "yuppies buying coffee for other yuppies". Sam stole money from the cards and listed the two cards on eBay, valued at $500 and $125. He will donate 100% of the winning auction price (minus selling fees) to the Save the Children foundation. The auction quickly reached over $3000 before being closed by eBay, apparently because you can not sell two cards together. He is now auctioning the $500 card and will auction the $125 card at a later date. The current bid on the $500 card is $625.

Was Johnathan's Card a scam?
What comes as a real shocker in this story is that Johnathan Stark comments HE KNEW THE CARD WAS BEING SCAMMED. He said that even though it was being scammed, he believed some people were still using it for good. In other words, loading money on the card which was being automatically transferred elsewhere and he was still benefiting from it. Very seldom were people actually able to use it to purchase a drink.

Johnathan benefited directly every time someone used the card. Each transaction earned him a star in the Starbucks My Rewards program where you earn a free drink coupon for each 15 transactions. Purchases and reloads both count. It was estimated that towards the end of the experiment, Johnathan was earning upwards of 100 free drink coupons per day. It was also huge PR for him and his company the longer the experiment lasted.

The End of Johnathan's Card
Even if the experiment was started with good intentions for social research and continued to operate on the premise of Pay It Forward, Johnathan should have stopped it as soon as it was known the scamming was occurring. Whether Johnathan transferred funds himself or not, him knowing of the scams and continuing to promote the project as people doing good for others makes him guilty of stealing himself in my book.

As soon as Starbucks found out about the card being siphoned, they notified Johnathan that the card would be deactivated, and it was on Friday night. It was a great experiment and people really believed in it. It gave people hope in humanity and brightened some peoples days. It is sad to see it come to and end, but Starbucks did the right thing. It was no longer being used for good, it was being used for the personal and/or financial gain of Johnathan Stark and countless other scammers.

A possible resolution?
The only "good" outcome I can see of this is if Starbucks were to deactivate every card which money was transferred to, for eBay to close the auctions for Tim Odin's cards and for Johnathon Stark to donate every free drink coupon received.

The whole scandal presents a new interesting question though. How was it that Tim and others were able to transfer funds from Johnathan's card, a registered Starbucks Card? Was this a security flaw in Johnathan's API which exposed the security code or account credentials, or is this a security hole in the Starbucks Card customer loyalty card system? Of course Johnathan's API is no longer accessible and all information has been erased from Google, but it is something I definitely intend to investigate further.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

14 tips for Android beginners

Googles Android mobile operating system has surpassed Apples iOS in Q3 of 2010 to become the second most popular smartphone operating system behind Research In Motions Blackberry, and it was the top selling mobile OS in the 2010 holiday shopping season. Even before holiday shopping an average of 300,000 new Android phones and tablets were being activated each day and there is no sign of it slowing down as it was the star of the Consumer Electronics Show 2011(CES) this week where no fewer than two dozen new Android smartphones, tablets and media players were announced. Android is expected to surpass Blackberry in 2011 to take the #1 spot and Microsofts new Windows Phone 7 does not appear to be of any threat.

Did you get a new Android phone or tablet as a gift this holiday season or for your birthday? Did you purchase one yourself because you were intrigued by the exclusive combination of hardware such as big screens, hardware keyboards, 4G connectivity, high resolution cameras and HD video recording or software like Adobe Flash, high quality YouTube videos and free turn-by-turn GPS voice navigation that you can't get on other mobile phones? Or perhaps you were surprised to find you could get todays top smartphones on sale for only $0.01 or in a buy one get one free deal on your mobile carrier of choice and bought them for the whole family?

Whatever the case may be, if you are new to Android, these tips will help get you running up to speed quickly and easily with all of Androids power packed features, many of which are exclusive to Android that adopters from iPhone, Blackberry, Palm or Windows Mobile may not be aware of. You don't have to be a geek or have a masters in computer science to start using Android like a pro and customize it to your liking.

1) Installing apps and games
The number of applications and games in the Android Marketplace are estimated at over 200,000 and growing by thousands each day. Most "apps" and games are free or low cost, and can give your new phone or tablet added functionality, personalize it to your liking or just kill some time with a fun game. If you don't know what to download, check out my Top 10 Apps for Android to get you started. If you are interested in purchasing an application, review the description, screen shots, comments and product website (if it has one) closely and see if there is a free "lite" or "demo" version available to test before making your purchase. If you do decide to purchase, and are not totally satisfied, you have 15 minutes to return your purchase for a full refund by uninstalling the application or game. This refund period may be short, but other popular app stores have no such refund period at all. Also, do not be afraid to use your credit card to purchase apps and games from the market. Google Checkout is not only used for the Android Market, it is the second largest integrated merchant solution, and is used by millions of people everyday to pay for products and services from from millions of merchants all over the world. Your credit card data is most definitely kept private and secure.

2) Rating downloaded apps and games
Please leave a rating and comment on the apps and games you download, especially for paid apps. This lets the developers and potential downloaders know what you like or don't like about their apps and games. It's important to only rate based on what the application claims to do in its market description. If the application does exactly what it says, but isn't quite what you expected, or is missing a feature you want, you can say so in your comments, but only base your rating on how well it performs the actual features advertised. If you do have a question or feature request, or you found a bug in the software, try to contact the developers via email or their website before you leave negative feedback. The solution could be very simple and already supported or maybe the developer is not aware of the problem yet. You can find links to their email and website (if they have one) at the bottom of the applications page in the Android Market.

3) Menu button and the Options Menu
In order to make the best use of the limited screen space on mobile phones, most Android applications use an "Options Menu", which is similar to the menu bar found on desktop PC and Mac applications. Many users new to Android often are not aware of the options menu, and as a result may be missing out on most of an applications features. This is especially true of people who have used Apples iPhone, iPod or iPad in the past, as iOS has no such menu and forces everything to be displayed on the screen at once, a horrible waste of space. To open the options menu, press the Menu button on your phone or tablet. This is the most vital button on Android and is used in many of the other tips below. You should get into the habit of pressing the Menu button the first time you use a new application to familiarize yourself with its options.

4) Long press and the Context Menu
Another vital action on Android is the "Long Press". To perform a long press, press and hold on an item on the screen until the screen vibrates below your finger. A long press is similar to right clicking on a desktop PC or Mac and will often either bring up a "Context Menu" or allow you to manipulate the item in some other fashion. The long press gesture is important to learn will also be used in many of the following tips.

A "Context Menu" is a menu that lets you perform specific actions on a selected item on the screen. A context menu may not be used everywhere, in every application, but when they are used, they usually contain time-saving shortcuts that can make using the application easier and faster. Just like with the options menu, the context menu is not known to most using Android for the first time, and especially if they are coming from iOS which doesn't support them, or from a Mac, which usually has only a one button mouse and limited right-click functionality support in applications.

5) Notifications menu
One of the most useful features on Android is the Notifications menu. It is a simple, convenient and elegant way for Android to notify you of events without disrupting what you are currently doing, unlike the dialogs on other mobile operating systems that demand immediate attention. Missed calls, text messages, downloads, application push notifications and other such events will go to this menu. To open the notifications menu, slide your finger downwards from the top of the screen. Tapping on a notification in the list will open the respective application and clear the item from the list. You can clear all notifications by tapping the Clear button. Depending on the phone, this menu may also have options to enable and disable power thirsty options such as WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G/4G, and the LCD backlight.

6) Using home screens, your Android desktop
Your Android desktop consists of multiple customizable "Home Screens". You can customize your home screens however you want with widgets, wallpapers, folders, and shortcuts to applications, bookmarks, contacts and more. To switch between different home screens, slide your finger left or right across the screen. To place something on your home screen, press the Menu button and then press Add. To remove an item, Long press on it and drag it to the trash can which appears. You can move items between your home screens by long pressing on the item to move, then dragging it to the edge of the screen and hold it for a second until the home screen changes. The Android Market has thousands of new wallpapers, widgets and applications in the Personalization, Live Wallpapers and Widgets categories you can download.

7) Using Home Screen Widgets
A great personalization and time-saving feature that you will only find on Android is "Home Screen Widgets". Widgets act as an extension to the applications installed. They allow you to customize your home screen with small applets designed to be informative and useful. Sometimes widgets are self-contained applications and do not add an icon to your app drawer. To install a widget to your home screen, press Home, then press Menu > Add > Widgets, and select a widget from the list available. Some widgets will be placed immediately on the active home screen and others will need to be configured first. If the widget needs to be configured you will get a settings screen after selecting the widget.

Most home screen widgets update infrequently and are easy on your battery, but if you add too many that update frequently or rely on data services, you may see reduced battery life.

8) Using Wallpapers and Live Wallpapers
Static wallpapers are so 2007, which makes you wonder why it took until 2010 for other smartphones to get them. In addition to Wallpapers, which has existed since the first release of Android, another great personalization feature you will only find on Android are "Live Wallpapers" which were added in Android 2.0 (Eclair). Live wallpapers are home screen backgrounds that are animated and interactive. They play behind your icons, widgets and menus and can respond to user input such as tapping or double tapping the screen, swiping your finger or adding and removing shortcuts and widgets. Live Wallpapers can be as simple as animated snow falling across your screen to full on games you can play directly on your home screen.

You can download new live wallpapers from the Android Market in the Live Wallpapers category. Most Live Wallpapers will not add an icon to your app drawer when installed. To set one as your wallpaper, press Home, then Press Menu > Wallpaper > Live Wallpapers and select one from the list. Many live wallpapers are configurable, so look for a Settings button at the bottom of the screen. When you are done configuring the wallpaper settings press back to return to the preview, then press the Set wallpaper button to activate it. You can make changes to the settings any time by returning to this screen, some phones may also have a Configure wallpaper option when you long press on the home screen.

Live Wallpapers will only animate while the screen is on and the home screen is visible, so most will have little effect on your battery, but a really active live wallpaper can cause delays when switching home screens and reduce battery life.

9) Using Folders and Live folders
To help keep your home screens simple and organized, you can place folders on your home screen like you would with other shortcuts. Folders can contain anything that you can place on the home screen, except widgets and other folders. There is no limit to the number of items a folder can contain. To add a folder to your home screen press Home, then press Menu > Add > Folders > New Folder.

Items cannot be added directly to a folder (a slight oversight?), you must first place it on your home screen, then long press it and drag it to the folder. To remove an item, long press it and drag it to the trash can which appears. Folders can be renamed by first opening the folder and then long pressing on the title bar.

Just like Live Wallpapers, while other smartphones are just starting to figure out static folders, Android has had "Live Folders" since the first release. Live Folders are folders whose contents are automatically updated in real-time by application data such as contacts, bookmarks, email, news or music playlists. Some applications will add new Live Folders, such as Pandora, which adds a My Stations live folder. Clicking a station in this folder will open Pandora and tune in to the selected station from a single tap on your home screen.

10) Searching
Google is best known for its wonderful search engine, so it goes without saying that it wouldn't be a Google operating system if some of this awesome search technology didn't make it on to Android devices. Most Android handsets and tablets have a Search button on the front of the device or on its slide-out hardware keyboard. If you do not have a hardware search button, press the Menu button, and the press Search from the options menu. Search allows you to simultaneously search the Internet, Emails, Contacts, Market Applications, Music, and more. It can even search inside applications you have downloaded from the Android Market for applications that support it. To configure which applications are searched by the Search button, press Home, then press Menu > Settings > Search > Searchable items. Many applications also support using the search button to search within the application, press the search button while inside your favorite apps to see if it is supported.

11) Voice Actions
With Android, Google has taken mobile searching to a whole new level with "Voice Actions", another Android exclusive feature. You can use voice actions to perform many common tasks such as calling contacts, sending a text message, getting directions or searching online. To do a voice search, Long press the Search button, or press the microphone icon on your on-screen keyboard, then speak your query.

Try actions like "Call John Smith" to call a contact named John Smith; "Send text to John Smith, I will be there in 10 minutes" to send John a text message that you are on your way; "Play The Doors Greatest Hits" to listen to your favorite music album; or "Navigate to Starbucks" to get turn-by-turn GPS voice navigation to the nearest Starbucks using Google Maps, included free with your Android device.

For a list of other voice actions see Voice actions are adaptive and will improve over time as it learns your voice and speech patterns.

12) Multi-tasking
Android was built from the ground up with its best in class multi-tasking, it was not added as an afterthought years later and it is the only smartphone operating system to offer true multi-tasking. Instead of pausing and resuming applications or limiting applications to a very small subset of background functionality, applications can continue running in the background just as if they were visible on the screen.

It's so simple. Every time you use your Android device, you are using its advance multi-tasking system without even realizing it. There are no confusing button combinations to learn, no pop-up dialogs, and no jiggling close buttons. Simply press the Home button to get back to your home screen and start another application. The next time you return to your old application, it will have finished its work and you will be brought back to the application in the exact state you left it.

Android will automatically manage your applications in the background and close them down when they are finished and no longer needed, or will pause them when more memory is needed for the operating system or other foreground applications.

13) Conserving battery
With lots of memory; a fast processor; a big, bright LCD screen; 4G; WiFi; Bluetooth; turn-by-turn GPS navigation; high resolution cameras and HD video recording; streaming internet music and videos; downloadable apps multi-tasking in the background; multiple customized home screens with widgets, live wallpapers, live folders; push notifications and more all going on at the same time its a wonder an Android device can even last 5 minutes on a full charge, nonetheless a few days.

The the more the screen is on and you are actively using the device, the quicker the battery will drain. The good thing is, Android takes care of most battery management for you. It will turn the screen, CPU, storage and WiFi off when not in use, it only uses battery for GPS and Bluetooth when those services are being used. 3G/4G data is only used when not connected to WiFi, etc. Most users are able to get a full day of use out of their device with moderate usage without changing any settings, but there are a few you can change to maximize time between charges. For a comprehensive guide, see my Battery Tips.

14) Task killers
With multi-tasking and batteries, there is always the discussion of "Task Killer" applications. These are even installed by some shops when activating the phone or when taking it in for service. A task killer will run as a service in the background, automatically killing applications with the claim that it will improve battery life. The constant polling done by a task killer uses up a lot of battery than it saves and it prevents the phone from sleeping where it will conserve the most battery. In short, a task killer duplicates the functionality that Android already does better and will drain your battery faster in the process.

The real problem with task killers comes from their tendency to prematurely kill applications. If your Android device is having frequent lockups, application timeouts and crashes or reboots randomly, at least 9 out of 10 times this is caused by running a task killer as a background service instead of a problem with your hardware or software. So don't do it, even if the service representative at your wireless shop recommend it, nothing good will come of it.

The End... for now
I hope that this has helped you learn more about your new Android phone, tablet or media player. These 14 tips are the bare essentials every Android user needs to know and only scratch the surface of the power and customization that Android offers you as a user. Look for a follow up soon that will go further into customizing and extending your Android devices with 3rd-party apps.

If you have any other useful tips, please share them with others in the comments below.