Category: Tools

A lean canvas for understanding your startup’s culture

By now, you’ve likely encountered the lean business canvas. It’s single page worksheet that helps folks build a high level business plan for their startup. Alternatively, its’a quick and easy way figure out that your idea for a company has no chance of succeeding as a business. Either way, it’s a useful framework. So if you can use that formate to help understand your business, what if it a similar worksheet could help you understand the culture of your business? Enter The Praxis Department and the Startup Culture Canvas.

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OpenID ID Selector promises to make OpenID less geeky

This week, Portland-based JanRain will be unveiling their latest contribution to the OpenID community: a compelling means of simplifying OpenID logins for the everyday user called ID Selector. With ID Selector, JanRain has managed to reduce the complexity—and, well, geekiness—of the OpenID login process in the same way that products like AddThis have simplified the social-media-submission process.

JanRain OpenID ID Selector

Long story short, the ID Selector reduces your OpenID login to clicking an icon and providing a username. It’s a shrewd move, given that every OpenID provider has a standard structure for its URLs, a structure that allows JanRain to reduce the amount of user input to a traditional “username.”

JanRain has always done a great deal of the heavy lifting when it comes to working on OpenID and being open with the libraries they’ve developed. So they understand how to work for the greater good when implementing OpenID solutions.

Their take on the OpenID ID Selector is no different. It allows the folks who implement it to customize the providers that show and the order in which they are listed—even if that means JanRain’s MyOpenID doesn’t make the list.

This is yet another step forward for OpenID and its burgeoning user base. And, truly, one of the first ways I’ve seen that highlights to everyday Web users—millions of people who use services like AOL, Yahoo!, and Blogger—that they already have live OpenIDs which they could be using to manage services.

It’s great for users, but it could also mean some exciting developments for the companies who choose to become OpenID providers. Rafe Needleman of WebWare, for example, sees a simplified OpenID moving into the realm of loyalty programs:

Major sites, like portals, could still do a much better job pushing the OpenID concept. That would be good for them, not just because it’d make OpenID more accessible to users, but because there’s a lot of brand affinity that sites can win by having users authenticate against their sites even when they’re using some other company’s service. Think of OpenID branding as the affinity credit card of the Web: Every time a user logs on to a service they’d get the authenticator’s brand popped up in front of them — just like Harley-Davidson does when its Visa affinity card users make purchases.

JanRain, not surprisingly, gets this, and will provide a complete white-label OpenID technology infrastructure for companies or brands that want to become authenticators. So if you want to log on to Web sites with an ID from your alma mater or local Rotary club, JanRain will make that possible.

But we still have a ways to go, before we get there. Allen Stern of CenterNetworks is wondering if part of the problem might be the marketing of the “OpenID” name itself:

From my side, I am starting to believe that we don’t need to market the term ‘OpenID’ to consumers. No one cares about the technology, they only want to login to their favorite service using their AOL or Google id. It’s like TCP/IP, no one cares how it works, just that our email shows up in the inbox and Twitter loads when we want to tell our friends we just saw Britney at CVS.

Clearly, we’re not out of the geek forest yet. But JanRain is making significant strides to see that we’re on our way.

For more information, visit JanRain.

Zloop: Simple social networking for almost anyone

I know. I know. You read the headline and let out an exasperated sigh. Another one? Seriously? But stick with me for a minute or two. Because I honestly think Portland-based Zloop has got something interesting happening.

Zloop helps anyone—and I literally mean anyone—create small social networks. They call them “loops.” And they can be about something extremely limited, like my family, or something larger, like Portland startups. These loops can be created on the fly. And you can belong to as many or as few loops as you like. You can manage multiple profiles, like a personal one, a business one, full details, limited details…

Again, I realize this sounds pretty standard.

But Zloop makes small social network creation so easy that even the ungeekiest person you know could use it. I’m not talking about your coworkers. I’m talking about your parents, your grandparents, your kids. Anyone. It’s like the—and I mean this in only the most positive way possible—the AOL of social network creation.

In fact—like AOL—it, quite simply, may be too easy and seemingly constricted for you to have any interest in it. And that, my friend, is the sheer genius of it.

This isn’t for you and me. You and I can go geek out on Ning or some other existing social network. We can jump on Drupal or slap some Django components together and bang one out. We don’t need simple tools like this.

And that is exactly the point. This is for the other 99.9% of the population. And that’s what I think makes it interesting.

So simple, I’m confused

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Brett Meyers, the community evangelist for Zloop, to talk about their solution and where they were hoping to go with it.

“So how do I find new friends via the interface?” I asked.

“You don’t,” Brett replied.

“So, if I want to join a bunch of different groups…”

“You don’t really do that here.”

“Can I get an RSS feed off of this?”

“No.”

So there I am, sitting there with a confused look on my face. I mean, in terms of Web 2.0 social networking functionality, Zloop wasn’t pushing the envelope. They weren’t even bringing the common, roll-your-own feature set. What they were bringing to the table was, to my Web 2.0 addled brain, boring.

“But… hmm. What about… um,” I said, continuing to struggle.

And that’s when it hit me: some people—arguably the majority of the human race—form “social networks” in an entirely different way than the infinitesimal segment of us Web 2.0-focused geeks do. In real life, it seems, these social networks are actually formed in person.

No, I’m serious.

It seems that there are any number of groups—schools, churches, businesses—where people actually meet and get to know each other in person before they ever think about interacting with one another online.

Weird. But to each his or her own.

And that market—that gigantically broad market—is the group whom Zloop hopes to serve. Or as Brett put it, “We want to provide something that helps strengthen the communities that are already happening in real life.”

Zloop, with their inherent simplicity, their gentle and thoughtful AJAX transitions, and their “just enough” functionality, have some thing very interesting to offer. And that is Zloop’s genius.

Just like a Basecamp or a Twitter, Zloop—at first blush—is both incredibly difficult to explain and seemingly surreptitiously lacking some sort of whiz-bang that would make it of any use whatsoever.

And that’s why I think they’ve got something here. Something simple. Something pared down. Something straightforward. Something for a specific use that applies to a very, very large segment of the population.

Is it cutting edge? Absolutely not. Is it entirely unique? Not by a long shot. Does it have a chance? If they play their cards right, I think it does. A very good one.

If you’re interested in trying Zloop, just let me know by—ironically enough—dropping me an email or sending me a message on Twitter. I’d be more than happy to give you access to Zloop and hear your take on it.

Will Openfire Enterprise going Open Source be good news for Jive Jabber/XMPP work?

And the hits just keep on coming from Portland-based Jive Software. As if their “new Clearspace plus a new site plus acquiring Jotlet” announcement wasn’t enough, they’ve also decided to announce that Openfire Enterprise is now truly becoming an open-source product.

What’s Openfire Enterprise?

Openfire Enterprise addresses the Enterprise Instant Messaging (EIM) market by adding rich reporting, archiving, and control features on top of Openfire.

Okay, so what’s the whole “open source” move mean?

Well, it means a couple of things.

First—and most importantly for open-source advocates—it means that some of Jive’s Jabber/XMPP work has been officially extricated from quasi-proprietary muck which may have prevented more widespread adoption and development. At least, that’s what Jive (and I) hope:

One of our hopes with this move is that the last possible objection to deploying XMPP-based instant messaging at every organization in the world is now removed. Now, everyone will have access to an open standards solution that satisfies all the needs of IT departments… for free. We think that’s great news for the community and getting our technology deployed even more widely is good for Jive Software as well.

Second—and most importantly for Jive as a company—it means that Jive is taking a decided step toward focusing on its Clearspace product by giving the open-source community control of Openfire Enterprise. While Jive will still be looking to drive revenue with Openfire Enterprise by integrating it into Clearspace, they won’t be juggling the two products in terms of managing the overall development.

Maybe it’s just me, but from an entrepreneurial, open-source, geeky frame of mind this announcement is by far the most exciting news coming out of Jive, today.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

(Hat tip Dawn Foster)

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.[

Sandy has more to want

Sandy, the anthropomorphic electronic assistant from Portland-based Values of n, has been brushing up on her skill set. And now, she’s ready to share some more of those skills with you.

First, Sandy now lets you share the love with your friends so you can collaborate on appointments and to-dos, just by letting Sandy in on your email conversations.

Staying organized with friends, family, and coworkers is effortless when I work with them, too.

  • send shared reminders (the movie premiere Friday night)
  • add stuff to each other’s calendars (the dentist appointment)
  • share a to-do list (get those to-dos done together)

…and so much more. No more fussing with different organizing systems and calendar applications — just bring me into the conversation and I’ll take care of the rest.

Second, for you getting-things-done, New-Year’s-resolution types, Sandy has added goals. I mean, Sandy already helps you get where you’re supposed to go in terms of meeting and tasks. But now, she can help you get where you want to go in life, as well:

[W]hat better way to keep your eye on the prize than to write it down and keep it front-and-center as you go about your day.

To that end, we’ve carved out a spot in your Daily Digest to add a goal, guiding principle, or inspirational quote that’ll appear at the top of your Digest email each morning and alongside your appointments and to-dos on your “Today” page.

To meet Sandy, visit I Want Sandy. For more on Sandy’s development team, see Values of n.

Trimet Tracker for your iPhone

Anyone who has ridden public transportation knows the frustration of missing a bus or waiting for a train that is never going to come. Portland public transit, for all the lauding it receives, is no different.

That’s why Matt King, the prolific Portland-based master of the making APIs do cool and useful things, has released a new application for the iPhone to help Portland folks get the TriMet public transit info they need in a format that is actually legible on an iPhone screen.

So I present to to you the Trimet Tracker, an iPhone app that allows you to easily find out when the next bus is going to arrive at your stop. Just enter your Stop ID and you’ll get a list of all the arriving buses (or MAX or Street Car), what time they will be showing up, and how long you have to wait. If you don’t know your Stop ID, you can also do a quick search by picking a route and selecting from all the stops on that route.

To make it even easier, you can also save any stop to your favorites list so you don’t have to enter a Stop ID or search for your stop again. Just hit ‘Favorites’ and select which stop you saved.

The most interesting part about this whole story? It’s written off of a TriMet API. Who knew TriMet even had an API?

Don’t have an iPhone? Don’t ride public transit in Portland? Getting tired of me asking questions? Have no fear. You can still use some of Matt’s other tools, like TwitterWhere, KnitMap, and Unthirsty. (At the time of publishing, Unthirsty was down for maintenance.) (It’s back up.)

For more information, see Matt King’s post on Trimet Tracker.

Stripping in Portland

Portland-based Toonlet is a fun little Web-based Flash application that lets anyone create comic strips.

And while there are a wide variety of illustrations at your disposal, unfortunately there is no “make this funny” button—as is made excruciatingly obvious by the comic I created below.

Toonlet

Marshall Kirkpatrick of Read/Write Web (the blue panel above) also covered Toonlet today, citing:

There’s lots of sites on the web where you can create your own comic strips but few of them let you build your own characters…. Each character you build can have multiple versions, depending on the mood they are in in a particular panel. The variation of characters and moods makes the site a lot of fun to click through.

For more information or to create a comic strip of your own, visit Toonlet. And feel free to share what you create, either by replying to the comic or replying to this post.

[Update] Be forewarned. The traffic from Marshall’s post already took down the server once. And now his story is climbing Digg. So, response times may be a bit erratic. Stick with it. It’s worth it.

(Hat tip Raven Zachary)

Pulse of Portland begins beating

The Portland-area Twitter hits just keep on coming.

In the “links arrangement” below, I highlighted a post that Scott Kveton published yesterday, where he mentioned an idea for following what Portland was talking about on Twitter. Today, Josh Bancroft made it a reality.

Pulse of PDX has launched.

How does it work? Anyone from Portland who is followed by @pulseofpdx on Twitter (and following @pulseofpdx is the easiest way to be added) will be added to a stream of comments that are published to the Pulse of PDX site.

So, if you’re not using Twitter (For shame! Here’s how you get started), you’re still dipping your toe in the Twitter water, or you’re not really interested in following all of Portland and Vancouver, try checking out Pulse of PDX and listen in on the talk of the town, today.

Jive offers Clearspace X free of charge (to some of you)

Developer group? Non-commercial open source project? Need some community tools? Oh my, my friend. You are in luck.

Because Portland-based Jive Software has announced that they will provide your group with a free license for Clearspace X, their award winning community platform.

If you have an open source project or a developer group (users group, etc.) and want to take advantage of the free licenses, you can find more details and a short request form on the free license page on Jivespace.

For more on other organizations already taking advantage of the Clearspace X offer, see Dawn Foster’s JiveTalks post. For more on the platform, see Jive’s Clearspace X area.

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