[Editor: For those folks outside the Silicon Forest who stumble upon this blog, I tend to get a bunch of questions about Portland: What makes Portland so special? Why do I keep hearing about Portland? Should I move there? Can I stay at your house?
It goes on and on.
But they’re all really asking the same thing: Why Portland?
So, I’m starting a new series of posts entitled—appropriately enough—“Why Portland?” In so doing, I hope to provide some different viewpoints what makes Portland, the Silicon Forest, and the whole startup scene around here so special.]
Intrigo succumbs to serendipity
Go to practically any Legion of Tech event or a Beer and Blog or a Portland Lunch 2.0, and more likely than not, you’ll have the pleasure of meeting someone from Intrigo, a small Portland-based development shop focused on helping startups get their products and sites to market as quickly as possible.
And Intrigo isn’t just participating. They’re sponsoring. They’re pitching in to help. They’re part and parcel of the burgeoning Portland startup scene.
They must have been around here forever.
In reality, the first footsteps that Tucson, Arizona, founded Intrigo set in Portland were last October.
“Four days of rain,” said Nathan Bell, who helps run Intrigo.
They were here as part of a search for a new home for Intrigo. But at that point, Portland wasn’t really even on the list.
“We were looking to get out of Tucson,” said Bell. “We had a list of places we were exploring: San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston, Boulder, and Austin. But a couple of us were interested in looking at Portland.”
And yet, lo and behold, here they are in good old Portland. What won them over?
“Portland is so dense compared to the other cities. So focused in a small area with a very tight community,” said Bell. “Even with the weather, that visit had us putting Portland near the top of the list. And after a few conversations with the team, that was that.”
So, Intrigo packed up its entire company and began to relocate to Portland. Because, in their opinion, Portland had things that Tucson lacked, among them a good technology sector and growing startup scene. Things that were important for their business to succeed.
But the interesting thing was that that decision preceded their first face-to-face interactions with the Portland tech community. Even more interesting? At the point in time they were making that decision, the now exceptionally collaborative Portland Web startup community had just barely begun to gel.
But it was starting to gel. And there was one particular event that marked the beginning of that startup community getting more collegial: Ignite Portland.
And as serendipity would have it, that event was Intrigo’s introduction to the Portland startup scene.
“One of our first hires sent us a YouTube video from Ignite Portland,” said Bell. “And that led us to getting involved with the Legion of Tech. Because we wanted to support that kind of thing.”
And they’ve been continuing to support it ever since.
So, now Intrigo is indeed part of the startup scene that coincidentally seemed to come together even as they made their plans to move to the Rose City. They’re an anchor for events. And a definitive presence in the community.
They’ve helped make the Portland Web startup community what it is today. In effect, defining their own future. And they will—no doubt—continue to do so.
So, now, what does Intrigo see for Portland’s future? And what are they looking for from Portland?
“I’d like to see the Portland Web startup scene gain more and more critical mass,” said Bell. “I’d like to see this become a self-sustaining movement that attracts more and more companies to Portland.”
And as that happens, what is Intrigo’s role?
“We’re still maturing and working to find our niche,” said Bell. “We’re still figuring out how we’ll fit into the ecosystem around here. One thing is for sure, we’ll keep focusing on what we do well: building deeply technical Web apps for startups.”
If this is the way Intrigo spends its first six months in town, I can’t wait to see what they’re capable of doing once they’re settled.
Gia Lyons writes “I’ll be onsite in Portland next week, and will finally get to meet my new boss, Sam Lawrence, in person. I already have secrets about him, so I think trust has been established already.”
StageDive, Inc. is seeking a talented and experienced web developer to implement creative technologies and create a special interest social network community based around high quality user generated audio and video.
Josh Pyles writes “Today at Beer and Blog we discussed the possibilities of distributed ‘micro-blogging’ services using an open standard, and blogging platforms. It’s certainly an interesting idea, and I would love to see it come to fruition, but I still have several doubts about it. There are several key components that may seem small overall, but they are the little nuances that make Twitter our favorite online service.”
Lunch 2.0: Portland style
“Since the ideas of a) free lunch, and b) geeks gathered were both good ones, Lunch 2.0 became an unofficially official thing. Since then the idea has spread all over the world, but taken a special hold in Portland where we have loads of tech companies.”
Lunch 2.0, the Vidoop version
“I also noticed that the crowd seems to have expanded. From my standpoint, what started out as a mostly techie crowd now seems to include a lot of marketing folks as well as some of the general Portland Twitterati.”
Portland Lunch 2.0
“Lunch 2.0 is one of the best way to meet people in Portland’s thriving tech scene—the other being BarCamp Portland and Startupalooza.”
Trails and Lunch 2.0
“This afternoon I attended Lunch 2.0 here in Portland, OR. It was hosted by Vidoop, the creators of an OpenID product they say foils both phishing and key logging. I created an account, chose my 3–5 images, and logged in and out of it. It seems interesting, so likely more to come on that one as well.”
Marshall Kirkpatrick writes “The first release of the product tackles usability issues that other services have faced and offers a sophisticated feature set that other competing services will likely learn from quickly. The next release from Strands will include an application of the company’s recommendation technology to the aggregated user data and allow export of users’ standards based ‘taste data.’ Before it can succeed in those next challenges, though, there are some key areas in which the Strands user experience will need to improve.”
Aaron Hockley Justin Kistner writes “Thanks for the submissions everyone! There are some really great ideas here and we’ll be mulling them over this weekend. We will announce our selections early next week right here on our blog.”
Corvallis-based Strands, the company that is working to apply its recommender technology to help folks find more stuff to like, has been going through a bit of a metamorphosis as of late. And while they’re not quite ready to emerge from the chrysalis, they are starting to show some hints of where they’re going.
One such hint was released in private BETA yesterday: the new Strands.
So what is this new Strands thingamajig? Long story short, Strands is now offering a social lifestreaming service. But with a twist.
I realize that many of you out there may have a big “WTF is lifestreaming?” bubble floating over your head right now. So rather than continue to geekily blather on about it, I thought I would take the opportunity to step back and define “lifestreaming.”
Then, we’ll all be on the same proverbial page.
Lifestreaming consists of aggregating all your disparate online activities into one single feed of information.
So, for example, you post photos on flickr, you update your Facebook profile, you send a few tweets to Twitter, you favorite a video on YouTube, you add some bookmarks to ma.gnolia, and you post a message to your blog.
All of these are data points relating to you but they’re all beholden to those respective services.
Using a lifestream, you collect these data points in one spot—aggregating all of these activities into a chronological stream—and in so doing, you provide contextual reference for those seemingly disparate activities.
Think “one stop” for all of your activities on the Web.
Good question. Because, to date, lifestreaming has been yet another flavor of navel gazing. Another channel of noise to monitor. Especially if you tend to follow people on individual services and then follow their respective lifestreams.
You’re getting everything in stereo stereo.
The real value—apart from one-point access to a variety of datastreams—has been difficult to define. Yes, we can do it, but should we do it?
Well, now, that answer may very well be “Yes.” You see, with Strands, there’s now actually a reason to do it. And there’s value in doing it.
But before we can get on to the cool Strands stuff, there’s a huge elephant in this room into which I keep bumping. So let’s resolve that, shall we?
In the tech industry, we’re constantly searching for analogies to describe new services. And it’s a struggle. So when someone comes along and introduces a concept, they gain more than first-mover advantage: they become the analogy.
So, yes, the comparisons to FriendFeed are immediate, obvious, and deserved. But that comparison shouldn’t serve as a means of dismissing the Strands service.
Why? Well, two primary reasons.
First of all, a little over six months ago, none of us even knew what FriendFeed was. Granted, a great deal has changed since that point in time, with FriendFeed quickly moving into “media darling” status. But fact of the matter is that, before that point, tumblr could have easily been deemed the leading lifestreaming service. But FriendFeed raised the bar.
Now, Strands has raised that lifestreaming bar higher.
And I believe they’ve raised it in a way that actually moves sharing and comparing lifestreams from the realm of fleeting interest and curiosity to the realm of actually being helpful and valuable to those who choose to participate.
Second reason we shouldn’t simply dismiss Strands as an also ran? Well, it’s an opportunity for me to use one of my favorite platitudes: Google wasn’t the first search engine.
Or, in other words, just because you’re first and popular doesn’t mean you automatically win—or that you’ve solved the problem. (Or maybe it does. If you can find anyone from Alta Vista to attest to winning that search engine race, I’m all ears.)
So yes, Strands has some similarities to FriendFeed. And it stands up quite well, toe-to-toe, on those similarities.
But where it shines, of course, is in the areas that Strands differs from FriendFeed.
What makes Strands different?
What makes Strands different is not necessarily the tangible features there today.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a number of cool features, even in this early version of the service: a desktop client, filtering, interesting graphs of activity, and some smooth AJAXy transitions. From an aesthetic standpoint, Strands is prettier than FriendFeed. There’s more eye candy. There’s this little thing over here. And that little thing over there.
Or we could complain about what’s not there. Where’s the RSS? Where’s the API? Why can’t I login with OpenID?
There are a lot of things still on the road map. But it’s a private BETA, so that’s to be expected.
All that I’m saying is that I don’t think focusing on a feature-by-feature write-up is the best place to spend our time. (Especially after forcing you to read through that overbearing intro.)
So where should we focus? Well, I’m most impressed with the concept—which holds a great deal of potential—and the vision for where this could possibly go. Because I actually get it.
I have to admit, I never quite got FriendFeed. I’m sure it’s there to get. But I just never quite grokked it. I couldn’t get over the hump. Despite my minimal efforts to do so.
With Strands, I get it.
So I’m going to focus less on “what it does” and more on “why I’m definitely going to use it.”
I’m going to use it because it gives my lifestream value—and it gives me more valuable resources through participation. By applying its recommender technology to your lifestream and the lifestreams of the folks you’re following, Strands will start delivering recommendations to you.
I do something and I get rewarded for sharing that data. I get other stuff that I might find cool—stuff I may have never found otherwise.
And that, to me, is valuable. Exceedingly valuable. Because I like new stuff. And I especially like cool new stuff.
So now, instead of just getting a chronological aggregation of data, you and I will get the opportunity to start making sense of all that noise. As more and more data is added to the various lifestreams of the folks you’re following, you’ll start to see trends, popular items, and recommendations of things that you might like.
The service aims to take the social media aggregation FriendFeed offers to the next level by offering social recommendations on top of it. The company aims to use your friends as a filter to “hot” content you’ll be interested in.
Or to put it another way, the stuff that may be important to you bubbles to the top. Where you can see it. And act on it. And this stuff may even be stuff that you didn’t realize was important. It may be something entirely new.
So what’s the catch?
The catch is the classic catch: none of this works without a sheer girth of users and data.
A recommendation engine needs data fuel on which to run, otherwise it can’t make any recommendations.
And that will help solve this problem of “getting people to use the service.” And then we’ll get to see how this recommendation stuff really works. And how well the algorithm functions. And if we’re really finding cool new stuff or not.
Again, it’s private BETA, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But I’d love to see you over there. And I’d love to get your take on the new service.
I think it has the potential to change the way we influence one and another.
Erictrigo writes “We couldn’t be more excited about having Dan join our team. His experience, talent, and personality are perfect fits, and attest again to why we love Portland and its people so much. Not to mention, Dan become the first ever Dad to be a part of the Intrigo team!”
Matt King writes “If you’re attending RailsConf this year and are from out of town, you might be like me when you’re in another city: I don’t really find much outside of the touristy areas, or what’s immediately around where I’m staying. But you’re in luck! I live here in Portland, Oregon and I have a list of places to go and things to do that I think are quintessential Portland.”
On the topic of OpenID–something near and dear to our Portland hearts–Michael Arrington writes “OpenID Foundation is looking for new leadership to guide the project going forward. Executive Director Bill Washburn, who is the only paid employee of the foundation, will be leaving in six months and the entity is looking for a replacement.”
Mark Dilley writes “For power users and new feature daredevils! The AboutUs Bookmarklet will open the AboutUs Wiki Page for the website that you are currently browsing. So if you are looking at the InstituteOfMosaicArt.com website and you want to add something to its Wiki Page on AboutUs, you can get there in the click of a link in your web browser!”
Sam Lawrence is offering a free pass to Enterprise 2.0. “The good folks at Enterprise 2.0 have given me one free Platinum (no less) pass to give away to a lucky Go Big Always reader. Here’s what you need to do to win it…”
Why all the new offices? Well, there’s a few more heads in the good ol’ headcount it seems. Like more than four times as many. And with all those heads attached to bodies, they need somewhere to sit and work.
This marks a huge step forward for what was—heretofore—a very successful Portland startup. Now that Jive is stepping onto the international stage, it will be very interesting to see what this means for the local scene—and the attention Portland gets.
Pete Forsyth writes “I’m very excited to announce that WikiProject Oregon, a loose collection of Wikipedia volunteers who share an interest in Oregon, has just started its own blog: wikiprojectoregon.wordpress.com.”
The Portland citywide free wifi demise is complete, according to Om Malik, who writes “In what is proving to be yet another high-profile Metro Wi-Fi failure, MetroFi, a San Jose-based startup that raised over $15 million from Sevin Rosen and August Capital, is close to shutting down, according to WiFi NetNews and MuniWireless, two blogs that follow the MuniFi industry closely.” Long live Personal Telco!
Corvallis-based Strands, the company that develops technologies to better understand people’s taste and help them discover things they like, is holding a Portland meetup to unveil some of the new stuff they’ve been building.
And they’re promising big things:
On May 28th, we will be opening up our newest service, Strands.com under private beta, a very early version of what we think will be something very relevant for people, very ambitious in the data portability space. We’ve organized a meet-up for the Portland community and would love for you to attend.