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How can Siri help people with Autism?

January 15th, 2015 at 16:00 by Catherine

Apples' Siri intelligent personal assistant












Millions of iPhone users around the world use Siri to set alarms, ring friends and find out what the fox says. One thing Apple probably didn’t foresee, is the positive impact for people with autism.

Siri is helping people with autism to communicate more effectively, as one mum found out when her son started using the app. With this benefit only just being realised, we look at how people can use this to help their relatives with disabilities…

Siri and its benefits

Siri acts much in the same way as any other (virtual) personal assistant, but for some it has become much more. Siri is able to find information about specific queries and present it back to the user.

With this in mind, we compared three different virtual assistants (OK Google for Android, Cortana for Windows and Siri for Apple) to see which was able to provide relevant, useful information for a range of different queries. Watch the video below to see which did best:

The questions were designed to test the virtual personal assistants’ ability to quickly retrieve information, especially niche information that may not be readily available elsewhere: queries about Morse code and flight schedules for example.

Although Siri was often slightly slower, this was because it was taking extra time to present the information in a more digestible way– arguably more useful than just presenting a Google search and letting you click on the result you think is most suitable.

Siri’s predictability, ability to talk about a single topic for hours on end and, indirectly, its need for the user to enunciate clearly makes it the perfect companion, and one which can help people with autism to practice communication at any time.

Lynn Tomkinson, ABLE Scheme Manager for Broadacres Housing Association, says, “I believe that it is a valuable tool which enables communication at a level which is appropriate to the individual.

“Communicating with someone with autism can be difficult and every individual has different needs. Siri is useful because it is a device which is non-judgemental, direct and non-emotional (all attributes needed for successful interaction in these situations).”

Lynn adds that because it is a device, there are fewer elements of communication for the user to worry about. “Eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, body language can contribute to the individual’s anxiety resulting in difficulties in processing information” she says, “I believe Siri works so well  because it is more specific and communicates in short, direct language, which is better than giving broad answers the individual has the potential to misinterpret.”

Siri isn’t the only app that can help people with autism. There is an endless stream of apps that are waiting to help and here are just five we picked out to test and try:

Autism Apps – Free

A list of apps that can help disabled people. It splits them down into categories to make it easier to search and download.

FindMe – Free

This game encourages children to find people, and helps them practice social skills by adding increasingly more distracting objects around the person they need to find. This helps them to practice attending to people and maintaining focus, rather than looking at distracting objects.

AutismXpress Pro- £1.49

This helps children to learn different facial expressions. It has pictures of different emotions and encourages children with autism to interact with the expressions and match them to feelings. This helps the child to understand different emotions and transfer that knowledge to social interactions.

Look in my Eyes – £1.99

Look in my Eyes is a game that encourages eye contact in children who find it difficult. It does this by showing the child an image of a face with numbers over the eyes. It then asks the child what number was on the eyes and, if they get it right, they earn money they can use in the game.

Proloquo2go – £149.99

An app that uses images and words to help autistic people to communicate. The user can tap on a picture to make the app say the words underneath it, and this enables them to communicate. Although it’s expensive, it has been proven to help thousands of people, and there is a video about the app here.


Are you a fan of Siri? What do you think to Siri being able to help people with autism? Let us know your thoughts below….

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Will Black Friday / Cyber Monday become the new Boxing Day?

November 28th, 2014 at 10:40 by Catherine

Will Black Friday / Cyber Monday become the new Boxing Day Sale?

Black Friday – the retail sales that occur on the Friday after Thanksgiving—used to be an American tradition, until now. This year, the day of sales arrived in the UK.

UK based internet searches for “Black Friday” were up by 355% in 2013 and look to be even higher this year. This ever increasing online popularity of Black Friday has led to a large number of online retailers in the UK offering Black Friday deals. Last year, so many retailers ran promotions that 72% of the UK population said they know about the Black Friday sales.

If Black Friday continues to become more popular in the UK it’s possible it could overtake Boxing Day and be the biggest sales day in the UK. Plusnet looks into how possible this may be.


The growth of Black Friday

Last year Experian stated, that “Searches for ‘Black Friday’ were up 355% in 2013” and this huge growth in online search behaviour shows that there is still room for an even higher volume of Black Friday searches in the years to come. They also predicted that £10.5 billion would be spent on online retail transactions in December 2013 alone.

Black Friday’s popularity amongst UK consumers was also shown on Twitter as Crimson Hexagon showed “there were a total of 4,156,900 tweets about Black Friday, of which 43% were positive, 35% negative and 21% neutral”.

There were 129 million visits to retail websites on Boxing Day which was a year on year increase of 15 per cent which, according to Experian, still made the 26th December the biggest online shopping day ever. However, the growth of online searches for Black Friday deals are likely to keep increasing at a much faster rate than any other sales shopping day in the UK which could result in Boxing Day becoming a less popular day for consumers to buy products.


The emergence of Cyber Monday

Black Friday has proven so popular that the sales will often extend over the week, usually ending on the Monday—a day which is now dubbed Cyber Monday, due to the emphasis on online shopping.

Surprisingly, many retailers have already said that Cyber Monday last year was one of their busiest days on record despite Cyber Monday not having the same level of awareness amongst the UK audience. Amazon for example, said that last year they made 4.1m sales on the 2nd December 2013 (Cyber Monday) which actually beat their previous record of 4m on Black Friday, which was set 76 hours earlier.


Many UK retailers taking part in Black Friday have already announced that their sales will likely run through to Cyber Monday as they hope to emulate Amazon’s past success. Check out our previous guide to Cyber Monday and how to find the best deals using apps here.


A true bargain

There’s a cultural habit in the UK to always try to get a bargain especially on days with predictable discounts. However, many shoppers have started becoming wiser to sales that are advertised and don’t completely believe they genuinely being offered a good discount. Instead, consumers are now willing to spend money for the right kind of deal. If a high quality, expensive product is on sale, this is more likely to attract a consumer in 2014 than a cheaper product with a small discount or free delivery.

Even Black Friday isn’t immune from this way of thinking as research shows that Black Friday isn’t always the best day for deals as some retailers offer better deals on other days of the next year.

The rise in online comparison sites and mobile applications that can scan product barcodes for the best price, have given tech savvy consumers an advantage at spotting the deals that are the best value for money. This ability to compare prices much quicker and fast than ever before has led to a significant rise in sales on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day as retailers now have to compete to offer genuine savings.



As Black Friday and Cyber Monday take place before Christmas they seem more advantageous to shoppers at this time of year. Not only does Black Friday offer retailers large discounts, but it does so in time for Christmas. Many of the customers this weekend are likely buying presents. Boxing day on the other hand takes places after Christmas, which is great if you have a lot of money to spare, but most consumers don’t: Christmas has most likely taken its toll.



If you’re looking for a bargain you’d be hard pressed to find a day offering better value for money, especially before Christmas. This is Black Friday’s true strength: Boxing Day allows you to get a bargain for yourself, but Black Friday allows you to get a bargain for your loved ones.


Why not visit http://www.plus.net to check out our Black Friday deal and for further information on all Plusnet’s offers!


Are you doing some shopping for Black Friday? Have you come across some bargains you would like to share with the Plusnet Community below? Let us know… 


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A guide to viral charity fundraising

November 26th, 2014 at 10:15 by Catherine


A guide to viral charity fundraising

Over the past year it’s been hard to ignore the trend in online viral charity fundraising drives – #nomakeupselfie raised £8 million in less than a week, whilst the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised £62,000,000 over the course of its lifetime. We have had the chance to work with some incredible charities here at Plusnet, such as the Jane Tomlinson Appeal, so we thought we’d take a look at how both your own charity and yourself can emulate the success of others by setting a trend and getting something to go viral online.

What makes something viral?

Things go viral so quickly and frequently that we have almost become immune to it, but what actually is “going viral”? Going viral is when a video or image is shared (usually on social media) by many people, and with each share the content gets more well-known, thus generating more shares until it becomes so well-known that it stops being shared.

Gangnam Style is one of the most-watched of all time, breaking the two billion-view count on YouTube alone. Even a million views might seem insurmountable for charities, but that’s not the case – Invisible Children’s video “KONY 2012” has amassed nearly 100,000,000 views despite being 30 minutes long.

Igor Beuker of ViralBlog.com says, “When looking at the viral hits #icebucketchallenge and #nomakeupselfie, charities should understand that they can fuel their own fundraising by adding viral marketing.”

A guide to viral charity fundraising
2,117,415,553 Gangnam Style http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0&hl=en-GB&gl=GB
789,249,693 Charlie Bit My Finger http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OBlgSz8sSM
284,436,079 Evolution of Dance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMH0bHeiRNg
99,869,312 KONY 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc
20,539,787 ALS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XS6ysDFTbLU
15,827,260 Jacket – SOS Children’s Villages http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9O8j9QPZc8
12,285,736 Girls Going Wild – Red District http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-a8dAHDQoo
6,471,005 First world Problems http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxyhfiCO_XQ
3,993,405 Fragile Childhood – Monsters  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwdUXS94yNk
1,070,839 Ohio State Marching Band http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UFW72NeTgg













So how can charities make it work for them?

The success of the #nomakeupselfie and Ice Bucket Challenge lied in their fun, easy to share nature coupled with the implied peer pressure of it being on social media. As people took part in the trends they were able to “nominate” people they wanted to also take part, and with it being on social media, they could upload it to Facebook or Twitter and share with their friends.

Don’t ask for too much

It’s important to keep the ask short and sweet – both in terms of what you’re asking people to do and how much you want them to donate. Although a donation of £10 would help, you are more likely to get someone to donate £3, and each £3 donation adds up. The same goes for what you’re asking people to do – the simpler it is, the more likely people will do it.

What do charities have to say about it?

We spoke to Jon Smith, Head of E-Commerce at YHA (England and Wales) and he said, “Having observed the incredible success of the Ice Bucket Challenge earlier this year, and similar charity campaigns on social media before it, I’m keen to discover how we might replicate such ideas to raise awareness of YHA.

Obviously, just how ‘viral’ something goes still appears to be very much the luck of the draw!  But it’s certainly something we’re keen to try in the near future.”

Have you taken part in a viral charity fundraiser? Perhaps you’re doing Movember this year? Let us know in the comments. 


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