Category: StepChange

How Dachis Group’s $30 million in funding relates to Portland, Oregon

At the beginning of the week, a whole bevy of tech companies announced funding. Among them? The Dachis Group, “the world’s largest Social Business consultancy.”

Now, yes, there is a Razorfish outpost here in town. And yes Jeffrey Dachis—founder of Dachis Group—helped found Razorfish back in the day. But that’s not the connection I’m seeing. No, the connection is a little less direct. But interesting nonetheless. Read More

Portland-based StepChange becomes part of a burgeoning social agency

Now, there’s another one. On the heels of Bac’n getting gobbled up and Jive snapping up Filtrbox, StepChange Group has announced that they have been acquired by Powered.

When I was looking forward to 2010, I mentioned that I thought there were some acquisitions on the horizon for Portland companies. I mean, based on what’s been happening, it seemed only reasonable that there would be a few. But I had no idea so many of those acquisitions would be rearing their respective heads in the two weeks of 2010.

Now, there’s another one. On the heels of Bac’n getting gobbled up and Jive snapping up Filtrbox, StepChange Group has announced that they have been acquired by Powered. Read More

Sidecar: Ridiculously easy feedback widget for products, blogs

[HTML1]A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to get a glimpse of Sidecar, a new widget from Portland-based widget wizards StepChange Group. The product is currently running in a small private beta with a couple of other Portland-based companies, Sandy and one other.

Sidecar, at its very most basic, is a simple survey widget. It was developed—with product managers in mind—as a way to make it easy for developers to embed surveys and feedback mechanisms within the interface of the Web-based apps they’re developing. The widget was specifically targeted at gathering feedback during the oft-cryptic and hectic “beta testing” cycle that every product experiences.

But, as we walked through the demo, I immediately saw the opportunity for it to do more. Much more.

I couldn’t help but think of all of its potential as a feedback mechanism, a means of managing context sensitive help, a supplemental page-ranking system (think “contextual Digg“), and—last but not least—the means for you (yes, you!) to truly engage in conversations with your users in a format that is easy for them and valuable for you.

That’s a lot to cram into a little widget. But I’m definitely seeing the potential. Even in this beta version.

So of course I piped up with, “You know, I could really see this being useful on my blog. Or any blog for that matter. Blogs get feedback via comments. But that’s post-by-post feedback. I could really use this to assess the impact of Silicon Florist, as a whole.”

So, I continued to beg and plead. (I could almost hear the engineering team cursing me.) And luckily, I was invited to the private beta. Then I saw Greg Rau’s presentation at Startupalooza, and I was convinced that I better get this thing deployed sooner rather than later. So, now, you can see the Sidecar widget running right now, over at the top of the Silicon Florist sidebar.

Feel free to bang on it.

Click to see the Sidecar admin screen fullsizeSidecar is simple. Ridiculously so. And that’s the best compliment I can give it. It took me less than five minutes to build that Silicon Florist widget—and that was with the not-ready-for-prime-time admin panel. The same thoughtful simplicity that informed the design of the widget interface clearly permeates the widget configuration tools, as well. (I’ve provided a screenshot of the beta admin screen for reference.)

There are a bevy of reports and dashboards, as well: feedback, pages, users, and widget-use metrics. But I can’t say much about those until there is actually some data from the widget.

The only downside to Sidecar, at this point, is the installation, which is still a bit geeky. Not overly geeky mind you, but it requires mucking with code. And while that will have little to no impact on the Web-app developer adoption, it may curtail adoption with a broader market. I’ll be interested to see how StepChange puts its simplicity-smarts into making the widget installation (WordPress widget or plugin, for example) as simple as widget creation and management.

I don’t have any word as to when the Sidecar beta goes from private to public beta, but I will be continuing to provide feedback to the StepChange team on issues I encounter and the features I would like to see. If you’d like to chime in, you have two ways: commenting on this post or, preferably, using the widget (hint, hint).

For more information on the widget, visit Sidecar. For more on the people behind Sidecar, visit StepChange.[

Portland widget startups on the cusp of something big

Portland is well-known as an creative town. Especially when it comes to marketing and advertising. It’s hard to avoid the moniker with a powerhouse like Wieden+Kennedy in town.

But, anyone who lives here realizes that it’s not just W+K. There are marketing and advertising agencies and boutiques of every size dotting the Portland corporate landscape.

Within that environment, it’s not surprising that marketing and advertising wend their way through the culture of the city. Lately, however, I’ve begun to see this marketing influence popping up in a rather unexpected—but extremely interesting—space: Portland’s Web startups. Specifically those startups that focus on widget development.

It seems that the heretofore lowly widget is taking on the role of something more than a cute small-footprint app. It’s beginning to appear that it may be more than just a way to serve up some content, remotely. Today, in fact, it’s becoming clear that the widget is starting to take on a very important role in the world of marketing communications as one of the most tangible means of interacting with customers.

And two Portland startups on the leading front of widget development have the potential to capitalize that trend.

Earlier this week, Portland-based SplashCast revealed that the company’s Facebook widgets for popular recording artists were outperforming traditional online advertisements. Well, that might be an understatement. SplashCast pegs that performance at “75 times better than the clickthrough rate of traditional banner ads.

Now, to put that in context, SplashCast is seeing about 3% clickthrough rates on those Facebook apps. And that 3% is 75 times better than banner ads are performing.

But, the dismal downfall of banner ads as a format is not the focus, here. The point is that banner ads are an accepted and prevalent format for advertising that don’t hold a candle to the performance of widgets.

Later in the week, SplashCast continued to tout this finding by beginning to describe their apps, not as widgets, but rather “social advertising”:

SplashCasting represents a new form of online marketing called social advertisements – tools marketers use to reach the growing demographic of social network site users.

Social advertising. I might have left it at that, had not another Portland-based widget-building startup taken a tangential and complementary position on the issue.

That startup is StepChange (conspiracy theorists may begin churning on the “companies named with a capital ‘s’ and capital ‘c'” theories, forthwith), a small consultancy that both develops widgets for a number of customers and has some widget-based side projects in the offing, as well.

StepChange is beginning to notice a similar trend. And StepChange’s insight only lends credence to the position that SplashCast is taking on the world of widgets:

While we’ve done some basic Flash/Feed widgets, most of our design and development work has been on Social Media Apps that function more like true “applications” – with our clients requiring a relatively high degree of administration, content management, targeting reporting and integration.

I think these kind of ‘super-widgets-turned-applications’ need a better name, so I’m going to start calling them Distributed Marketing Applications.

In my opinion, the position that StepChange and SplashCast are taking is one that makes absolute—if not completely obvious—sense: social media marketing should be, well, social.

Social media is about interactivity. And feedback. And conversations.

Traditional online advertising—with its dancing gifs and whack-a-mole come-ons—just isn’t cutting it anymore. Traditional advertising is not, for lack of a better term, “interactive.” It’s one way. It’s broadcast.

And those who are deeply engaged in social media are hesitant to consume—if not completely avoid—those grating and annoying advertising formats, leftover remnants from last century’s dotcom failures.

Today’s Web consumers are wanting more. And they’re wanting something with which they can interact.

Widgets—and by extension Portland’s widget developers—offer that interaction for users. They offer something more than broadcast. They offer the potential for communications that are far more interactive.

To put it quite plainly, widgets offer us a form of marketing communications that we, as those being marketed to, “can actually do something with.” And if Portland’s widget developers can crack that code for the untold billions interested in interacting with us as customers, then they stand to have marketing and advertising executives beating a path to their door.

StepChange’s Kevin Tate makes a bet:

I’m also willing to bet that, as more and more companies look to extend their existing sites and services into Social Media, we’re going to see a significant market need for these types of platforms.

I’m beginning to agree with him. And I’m excited to see Portland continue to serve its role as a creative town. And, as a leader in marketing and advertising for what could truly be the next generation of ads.

MIXr: First mobile social networking app with Silverlight touchscreen UI

MIXr Mood Switcher

Today, Portland-based StepChange Group took the stage at MIX08 to demonstrate a groundbreaking new application: the world’s first gesture-driven, Microsoft-Silverlight powered user interface on a mobile device.

The data-driven touchscreen interface, dubbed MIXr, runs in the Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 environment, and was a proof-of-concept to showcase the functionality of these cutting edge development environments for the MIX audience.

“It was lots of fun—though nerve-wracking—to have our team sharing the stage with Ray Ozzie and Scott Guthrie,” said StepChange’s Kevin Tate.

Aside from the Portland angle, why is this newsworthy?

In my opinion, the release of the MIXr application is important for two specific reasons.

First, it proves the viability of Silverlight as an environment for delivering rich mobile applications. And, on a day when the use of these types of technologies in the mobile environment is being rejected by a major player, that’s a pretty big win.

Second, it gives us a glimpse into the future of social networking.

Unlike many of today’s “social networks on mobile devices,” the MIXr application, developed by StepChange in partnership with San Francisco’s Stimulant, demonstrates how the future of social networking may transition to your mobile device.

In other words, this isn’t a “m.” mobile view into an existing social network application; it is the social network application:

[MIXr] uses real-time user updates to track the mood and status of clubs and venues—and helps friends to connect and coordinate with one another during a night out.

It aggregates user ratings, such as a venue’s mood, line length, and music, and uses interactive data visualization to make it easy to figure out what’s hot and what’s not.

“Rich mobile applications are going to quickly change the way we use the Web everyday,” said Tate. “We’re focused on creating applications that leverage the powerful advantages of location, personalization and communication that the mobile environment provides – and have chosen Silverlight as our platform because of its portability and performance.”

For more information on MIXr and developing rich mobile applications using Silverlight, see Stimulant’s post on the MIXr release and StepChange’s announcement on the MIX08 Keynote.

Apparently, CLIQ didn’t click with its new owners

CLIQ, a dynamic blogroll widget which has been running in the sidebar of the Silicon Florist since I covered the tool in September 2007, is being shutdown as of January 31, 2008.

The widget was built by Portland-based StepChange Group in concert with Offermatica.

CLIQ was created as a joint-venture with our partner Offermatica – the leading online testing optimization platform, which was recently acquired by Omniture, Inc. StepChange managed all aspects of CLIQ’s strategy, design, development and has managed launch process for Offermatica (including the Private Alpha and Public Beta Programs).

I spoke to Kevin Tate of StepChange Group to get his perspective on CLIQ’s demise. He said his organization was taking the news in stride, seeing it as an opportunity for more Portland-centric efforts.

“While we’ve enjoyed working on CLIQ, we’re frankly looking forward to having more bandwidth at StepChange to put toward our own product development,” said Tate. “From a ‘Portland Perspective,’ it feels good to be able to let some of our project work go, so that we can spend more energy building a great software company here in PDX.”

The news of CLIQ’s shutdown was broken by Jeffro2pt0, who had this to say on the demise of the fledgling widget:

[W]hy Cliq is shutting down?

As it turns out, CLIQ was a client of Offermatica, INC and was built as a way to extend their story into the social media space. Well, Offermatica has since been acquired by Omniture. Omniture already has a number of projects within the social media space and therefor, it makes no sense for them to continue development and funding for Cliq.

Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins, who covered the story for Mashable, offered a similar assessment:

Clearly, part of the reason the service is being shut down is that it didn’t receive the traction it needed to survive the merger; other projects within the Omniture family had a wider userbase in the same space.

Personally, I found the widget useful, inasmuch as it provided additional metrics for determining what Silicon Florist traffic was generated by other Portland blogs. Plus, it served as another yardstick for assessing the popularity of companies, subjects, and stories.

Finally, I’m a bit chagrin to report that CLIQ also gains the dubious honor of being the first tool covered by Silicon Florist to go under.

An email will be sent to all CLIQ users, informing them of the Omniture decision.

CLIQ promises additional reporting features

CLIQ, the dynamic blogroll widget built by Portland-based StepChange, continues to roll through its public BETA. And word is that initial feedback has provided some valuable guidance.

Personally, I’ve been happy to have another source for stats on what types of articles people like to read. That’s why the upcoming features at which StepChange hints are extremely intriguing:

We are re-working Reports to be more specific to what’s going on with your particular CLIQ Widget (“How many times it was viewed”, and “What posts were clicked on”). And we’re also working on a way to ‘show’ how readers are moving between the blogs within your CLIQ.

CLIQ is currently in public BETA. For more information or to sign-up for the BETA, visit the CLIQ site.

In case you missed it: Widgets at Portland Web Innovators

If you, like I, were unable to attend the Portland Web Innovators‘ get-together with StepChange, last night, fear not, gentle reader.

Justin Kistner of Metafluence has provided a thorough recap of the PDXWI event for your reading pleasure.

My biggest take away is that widgets are not just a fad, but rather an important stratification of content and services that will reshape the future landscape of the web.

For more, see Metafluence.

Reminder: Portland Web Innovators tonight

Join the Portland Web Innovators for their monthly gathering, tonight. The topic? Portland-based StepChange will be presenting on their experiences developing widgets, like CLIQ. The meeting begins at 7 PM and will be hosted by Nemo Design.

For more information on the event or to RSVP, see the Upcoming page. For more on the group, see Portland Web Innovators.

StepChange announces CLIQ, a dynamic, blogroll widget

Portland-based StepChange has revealed the fruits of their latest widget-development efforts: CLIQ, a “super blogroll” widget that allows bloggers to dynamically manage complementary blog content, based on relevance.

It’s constantly changing content from your blogging clique. Get it?

In order to help bloggers actively promote and share their content, CLIQ combines three distinct things to create a Social Platform for Blog Merchandising.

1. The CLIQ Widget – which features content across a CLIQ’s member blogs

2. The CLIQin Social Network – which lets bloggers join forces with their friends

3. Offermatica‘s Content Targeting Engine – which drives content features and relevance

As for that question on the tip of your tongue, “What makes it different that the thousands of other blogroll widgets out there?” the team offers:

CLIQ allows Bloggers to create their own groups of related and friendly blogs (“CLIQs”) – and to explicitly promote their posts across each other’s blogs according to popularity and relevance. It’s a merchandising tool for blog content, with a ‘social’ twist.

The widget is currently in limited release. Interested parties can register on the CLIQ site to see if they’re chosen to be allowed beyond the velvet rope.

If you get in, drop me a note and I’ll link it up. I’ll be the one standing outside in the rain, trying to bribe the bouncer with some mad Hamiltons.

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