UK Digital Agencies Get a Look at Microsoft

by michaelmcclary 12. April 2010 01:04

On Wednesday 31st March we held an evening for over 100 Creative/Digital Agency people at the lovely Paramount in London.  This gave us an opportunity to talk about our recent Mix10 Conference, allow our Partners to display recent examples of creative digital projects and engage with folks for lots of Q&A during the networking time at the end.  I slightly underestimated the content which led to a lot of shuffling on seats at the end (my apologies) and should possibly have inserted a beer and wine break.  Nevertheless, the opening session in particular from Richard Banks at Microsoft Research and the Partner demos were well-received, along with said chill-out time.


    Picture looking east thanks to Paul Dawson, EMC

I have a chronological write-up below but I thought I’d start by thanking those who attended, those who spoke and of course those who worked hard to get the event, logistics, people, etc, all together.

3 things to take-away (before reading through the write-up)

ONE: Sessions from Mix2010, including keynotes, are available to view and download here, I’ve listed some particular favourites below:

TWO: A massive thanks to the Partners who presented and demoed their wares, we hope to add to this next time…:


THREE: Microsoft is building a presence in the Digital Solutions space thanks to three major pieces:

  • Our fantastic Partners; both Digital/Creative and Media Agencies.
  • The connections being made across the Microsoft organisation from within the business: Technology, Enterprise Account Management, MSN, Consumer
  • The innovation which is finding its way out from the Live Labs, Microsoft Advertising, Microsoft Research, Bing and Silverlight teams

Now to the evening and it’s worth reiterating that the Paramount venue was first-class: responsive, friendly staff, convenient location and stunning views of London.

The running order is below:

Richard Banks, The 40-year-old Tweet

Richard Banks (blog, Twitter) is an Interaction Designer at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.  He works in the socio-digital team and explores the persistence of artefacts, memory and context throughout one’s lifetime.  This was a really engaging opening session.  He reflected on the use of photos, household objects, an old cog from a motorbike, to retain memories, through to storage of Twitter conversations and using an old-fashioned picture viewer in a cloud-connected scenario to view Flickr photos.

image  A ladle with a lot of history (Richard Banks)

He also showed some video from the SenseCam; a camera which takes a picture of your world once a minute and allows you to replay your history in accelerated form.  I was privileged to spend some time at Microsoft Research last year and was very interested in the work which has been done in exploring the impact of memory recall for Alzheimer’s sufferers.  There is a paper with some lovely quotes from people who have used it here and more of the same on this page. If you’d like to see more of Richard’s work and the work done by the team then I’d thoroughly recommend checking out their website and, more generally, taking a look at the Microsoft Research content from TechFest.

Paul Bristow, DeltaTre, the Vancouver Olympics Experience

Next up was Paul Bristow, the MD of DeltaTre Media, based in Wimbledon and Turin. He showed us some video and statistics on the Vancouver Olympics experience as DeltaTre provided a web solution for the Olympics which incorporated live data feeds and tied into the Silverlight Video experience.  Some interesting facts include an average on-line daily view time of 54 minutes per person for Vancouver 2010 and that 30% of the Canadian population went on the site.


Michael McClary – Mix 2010 Recap

My recap was to bring out the highlights from Mix 2010.  This has been done to great effect elsewhere on the web but I’ll list what, for me, were the key take-outs.

Firstly, there was a real sense of innovation; the opening keynote started with Blaise Agueras and the advances in 3D embedded video and the Worldwide Telescope integration into Bing Maps.  For the full version I would recommend watching his recent TED talk here.  The theme for me is that Silverlight is our way of bringing the constant stream of fantastic new technologies and research output to the consumer and business audience through a lightweight browser plug-in.  Bing Maps for me is one of the best examples of one of our product teams connecting directly with the Live Labs and Microsoft Research output, more on Bing later.  Another great piece of technology is Pivot – a brilliant visual search and sorting application from Microsoft Live Labs.  You can take a look at Microsoft Pivot here, it was announced at Mix that it would be incorporated into Silverlight 4.


Secondly, the Silverlight coverage question was addressed by Scott Guthrie on stage in Las Vegas: “Silverlight is approaching 60% penetration and rising fast.” There are are ever-growing number of scenarios for which Silverlight is the number one choice.  In the past, however, there has been a reticence borne out of the fact that SIlverlight had, say, a 25-30% penetration rate, as at the beginning of 2009.  This led to two logical trains of thought: one, that the majority of users would have to install the plug-in just to experience one’s solution / application and, two, that Microsoft might not be fully-committed to this new technology – what if it is abandoned in 6, 9, 12 months?  The install rate shows that it is a technology which is delivering high-quality applications the world over and ubiquity is a question of when, not if.

Skipping onto the design tools, the enthusiasm for Expression Blend and particularly Sketchflow gets ever stronger and there were a number of improvements shown off at Mix.  I defer to the excellent Adam Kinney (blog, twitter) for a more comprehensive look at the latest features, although I feel the biggest enhancements to the tools are the addition of a number of Behaviours.  These enable an interaction designer to perform common tasks within a Silverlight application without having to write code.  In fact there are a number of Silverlight applications now which boast that they are written without a single line of code.  Expression 4 was released during the Mix keynote and also announced as a free upgrade to version 3.

image.toolbox is an on-line design school for those using Expression Studio

The last two areas of focus from me for Mix 2010 were Windows Phone 7 and Internet Explorer 9.

Windows Phone 7 was discussed and demonstrated at length during the Mix conference; it captured over half of the Day 1 keynote and there were about a dozen dedicated sessions assigned to the new platform, design and development.  There is more on Windows Phone 7 further down in Paul Foster’s session but it is clear that it was the headline-capturing subject from Mix 2010.

As for Internet Explorer 9, much was made of the support for standards, long discussions on HTML 5 and also performance improvements delivered by allowing IE9 to take direct advantage of graphics processing.


If you’d like to test the IE9 features yourself then download and run the demos within the IE9 Platform Preview.

Metia – EA Games Mass Effect II Campaign

Gavin Wignall (blog, twitter) and Dean Gifford (blog, twitter) showed the fantastic EA Games advertisement for Mass Effect II built by Metia.  This campaign highlighted the high-quality video and image quality which can be portrayed through a Silverlight ad.  Check out Dean’s blog for further information and follow-on links.


Paul Foster – Windows Phone 7

Paul (blog, twitter) has the job of bringing the message of Windows Phone 7 to the UK Developer and Designer audience and is perfectly placed to do so; his enthusiasm alone carries me along.  Windows Phone 7 has an entirely new look, operating system, development paradigm and, importantly, UX-led product design through the visual design language coined ‘Metro’.


The application development was clearly outlined; if you are building applications you’ll be taking advantage of common tools.  Standard applications willl be built in Silverlight and games will be built using XNA, a platform built on Microsoft .NET development technologies which is also used for building games for the Xbox 360.  In fact the support of the Xbox Live Platform on the phone was not lost on those who build games or even those who are now looking for more ways to enhance their gamer points scores. 


There is a lot of Windows Phone 7 activity coming up in the short term; this week sees a day of Phone sessions at TechDays and Charlie Kindel (blog, twitter) is over to engage with the Partner and Customer community.  If you’d like to know how to get involved either now or in the near future then please contact Paul or myself.   If you’d like to join the many thousands of agencies and development shops who are testing this out then download the (free) Developer and Designer tools from here

Splendid – First Direct, Tag Heuer

Splendid then took to the stage in the capable forms of Brennon Williams and Simon Parbutt.  Keen to highlight their particular abilities in Natural User Interface we looked at a couple of projects in particular.  To start with, the First Direct project was a great example of using Microsoft Surface to increase business return in a physical exhibition space.   In this case it was attracting people to investigate mortgage possibilities at the Grand Designs Live Exhibition last year.

image In a much more recent context, The Tag Heuer project is an example of Surface Units being deployed within airports.  This was built for J C Decaux to investigate the potential of Microsoft Surface-led marketing.  The Surface unit went to Heathrow Terminal 5 in February.  For more information check out the project link or take a look at Richard Griffin’s blog entry here.


Vikas Arora – Bing Maps

Vikas works in one of the most innovative teams within Microsoft, the Bing mapping team.  As mentioned earlier, Bing Maps is one of the best examples of Microsoft Research and Live Labs connecting with a product team.  To get a full tour of the latest and future Bing features as demonstrated by Vikas I would again refer you to the excellent TED talk here.  Even the standard Bing Maps shines in terms of features, the example below is the Tube proximity which is automatic if you search for somewhere in London. 


The really clever stuff in terms of visual experience and applications is available here in the Beta Silverlight version.  It’s worth checking out some of the ‘Map Apps’ for a few minutes to understand why, once they have explored the possibilities, agencies and custom developers look to Bing Maps as a tool for creating high-quality geo-based applications and experiences. 


My favourite? The WorldWide Telescope, ported to Silverlight some time ago, which allows you to see images of stars and planets such as the one below of Mars.



AKQA – Sherlock Holmes

In the words of Ian Finch from MandoGroup, who gave an excellent write-up of the whole evening here, the “jaw-dropping Sherlock Holmes campaign” was “probably one of the best pieces of work I’ve seen from an agency in years both from an end-user perspective but also through the sheer brilliance technically”.

Andy Hood came on to take us through this ground-breaking campaign which combined completely-skinned antique Bing Maps, Facebook Connect, Flash, javascript, Silverlight and a multitude of technologies and techniques, including Artificial Intelligence, to deliver a completely absorbing game.  I strongly recommend checking out Andy’s Mix10 session on blending technology and design here to see this and other projects which AKQA deliver.


EMC – Mix Rockstar using Azure

Next up was Paul Dawson, Experience Director from EMC, who delivered a great presentation with his usual engaging style.  He talked about an experiment which involved building a ‘good old-fashioned popularity contest’ based on Twitter and the Microsoft operating system in the cloud – Windows Azure.  This ran during Mix10 and was designed to find the person who managed to generate the best following and number of votes.  Interestingly EMC used Java developers as ‘they were the ones we had spare’ so it was a great example of Windows Azure scaling solidly, undergoing application upgrades with no loss of service and running a non-Microsoft runtime language.


MandoGroup – Silverlight visual dashboard

The final demo of the evening was down to the ever-enthusiastic MandoGroup, presented by Ian Finch and Carl Dickinson.   They are creating a fantastic set of Silverlight visual dashboards over real CRM and SharePoint data, as per the image below as part of a ‘Light Up SharePoint’ campaign.  It was great to see the interaction with the graphic which is actually Bing Maps with some film-set style skinning. 


Mark Taylor – Cloud

Mark Taylor runs the Developer and Platform Evangelism group for Microsoft UK and regularly speaks on our strategic direction on subjects such as Environmental IT and the Cloud.  With the unenviable task of giving a short presentation at the end of proceedings, he left the heavy product-placement out and focused on a few key messages with respect to Microsoft’s position in cloud-computing. 

One of those messages is that Microsoft have a great deal of experience in delivering both free and subscription-based reliable cloud services and have done for a number of years now.  One of the best examples of this is the Xbox Live network; a highly-reliable, high-performing service for which people pay a monthly fee (normally realised on an annual basis).  This service alone has over 20 million paying customers.  If we look at the Windows Live network as a whole then there are over half a billion LiveIds in use in the world.

Two further points which struck home for me were disambiguation of this term ‘the cloud’ – private, public, Government, and the need to think about, indeed insist on, cloud-based providers who have submitted and conform to robust industry standards such as the DMTF (Distributed Management Task Force).  When your personal and business-critical information is sitting off-site it’s even more important to consider the security and redundancy of that data.

My interpretation of the importance of the cloud to the Digital Marketing community is that the key advantages are scalability and hands-off management.  Scenarios from rich-content ad-serving and campaign microsites to eCommerce ticketing platforms and global marketing/monitoring platforms will rely heavily on this platform so it’s important that we analyse carefully the deployment options available.

In summary

A lot of content and much more which was left out; Fortune Cookie didn’t get time to talk about the eye-tracking innovation they used with their fantastic Europcar Surface application, Black Marble stood by the table in the corner ready to discuss their early experience with WIndows Phone 7 development and Huddle had a presence talking about their workspace solutions and SharePoint – thanks again to all of the Partners involved.

I also wanted to highlight the great work which is happening inside Microsoft to unite the many groups from emerging technology through account management to Microsoft Advertising – the subject of a future blog post.

Some great conversations afterwards and I hope to repeat the event with a slightly-modified format soon.

Any questions or feedback – please get in touch.