While the rapidly diminishing amount of sunlight has many Silicon Forest developers returning to the seclusion of heads-down work on their own projects, it’s always nice to take a break, get out, and see what other people are creating these days. And in my mind there’s no better place to see a random creative assortment of tech projects than Portland Web Innovators’ Demolicious, where Portland Web pioneers gather on a quarterly basis to share their “not quite ready for prime time” or “ready for prime time but no one knows about them” projects.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think, “I get to do an awful lot of cool things and talk to any number of awesome people simply because I decided to start a blog about something I loved.”
That may seem to be a ridiculous oversimplification—but when it comes right down to it, it’s not. I started blogging and things happened. I found people on Twitter and things happened. I started using services like Upcoming and Calagator and things happened. All because I embraced technology—and the Web—as a way of connecting with other folks.
We’re getting awfully close to WebVisions, the premier Web conference that has graced Portland, Oregon, for nearly a decade by bringing incredible Web thinkers, designers, and developers to discuss their craft. It’s such an amazing show, I can’t imagine not paying for it.
Every once in a while, I get something stuck in my craw that causes me to get up on my high horse. Sometimes I then convince that high horse to climb up on a soapbox. And then I take on a holier-than-thou stance and pontificate on something which has been irking me.
This would be one such occasion. (And, fair warning, there’s another one coming soon. [UPDATE] And here that rant is.)
Something has been bugging me. And if you’ve got a sec, I’d like to lay it all out there.
And to be candid, remember I’m only taking the time to bitch about it because I think we could be fixing something that would help the Web and mobile startups in the Silicon Forest get the recognition they so richly deserve.
And it’s really easy to fix. Read More
This evening, I had the honor to take a little walk down memory lane with the folks at Portland Web Innovators as we took a little time to reflect of the cool accomplishments of the Portland Web and Open Source startup community over the last 12 months.
It was kind of like signing yearbooks. A lot of nostalgia and a lot of kind words. And—of course—a lot of tweets.
I wanted to thank everyone who took time out of their schedules to come hang out and chat about our past and our future. And to those who took the opportunity to hang out online.
Here’s a quick round-up of what I’ve got at this point. I’ll add more as it rolls in, and as always, your comments are welcome.
Thanks so much to Bram Pitoyo for streaming this video and moderating the chat room. (NOTE: There’s a bit of a hiccup at about 90 seconds into the presentation. If you wait, it comes back. Or you can click into the timeline to kickstart the video again.)
I’m holding a contest. Count how many times I say “amazing” during this presentation and post it in the comments. You could win… um… I don’t know. Something.
We managed to accumulate quite a few tweets. You’ll be happy to hear that I managed to resist the urge to tweet during the presentation.
Sites I mentioned
- Urban Grind
- Green Dragon
- Legion of Tech
- Beer and Blog
- Portland Lunch 2.0
- Portland Web Innovators
- BarCamp Portland
- Portland Startup Weekend
- Side Project to Startup
- WordCamp PDX
- WhereCamp PDX
- Ignite Portland
- Open Source Bridge
- Open Tech Space
- Corvallis Beer and Blog
- Strange Love Live
- Chris O’Rourke’s Great Portland Interview Experiment
- Bacon Geek
- Portland on Fire
- KGW’s Stephanie Stricklen on Twitter
- KGW The Square on Twitter
And some folks have already taken the time to post about the event:
- State of Portland Tech – Web Innovators Live Stream and Event Recap
“Rick Turoczy (Silicon Florist) lead a discussion about the Portland tech scene heading into 2009. Where are we now, how did we get here and where do we want to go?”
- Portland Tech Community
“Over the last year, I’ve written several emails to people moving here describing different events to attend and at those events introduced people new to the area to others in the Portland Tech Community. Despite the fact that I had found myself doing that multiple times, I never really thought about it as a need. I just considered it some ways part of being a good host for the town I grew up in…. But there is a clear need. If someone doesn’t know to ask or whom to ask, they may never find their connection.”
- The Year in Retrospect, the Year to Come
“One of the things Rick declined to do was talk much about the ‘why’ – what’s the secret sauce that makes the Portland tech community a community and not some loose aggregation of companies and coders? Why is there such a drive to connect here, while other communities with equal opportunities just don’t work as hard? And most importantly, why is community so important to Portlanders, and what are local companies of all types and from all industries doing to connect and generate a sustainable economics through close attention to community members, the locality, the exigent needs of the people? What does innovation look like in tough circumstances?”
I’m happy to see that our beautiful summer weather continues to hang around. But from an event standpoint? It looks like summer’s over.
If this week’s event schedule is any indication, people are clearly ready to get back to business in the Portland Web and startup scene.
There’s a lot going on, so I thought it might be helpful to provide a round-up of what I’m tracking. And if I missed your event (it happens), please take a moment to comment below so that we can get it on folks’ calendars:
- Monday at 6 PM, it’s Mobile love, Android style #5. This meetup is an informal opportunity to discuss all things android-related. The android space is heating up again. The HTC Dream phone received FCC certification in August and will be sold by T-Mobile by November if not earlier. 0.9 of the SDK was released with 1.0RC1 around the corner.
- Tuesday at 9 AM, you’re invited to watch startups pitch at the FundingUniverse Portland LivePitch. The audience at LivePitch receives $100 of “fake money” to “invest” in their favorite entrepreneurs, with prizes awarded to both a panel and audience favorite. There will be 60 minutes of pitching, and 30 minutes for general networking.
- Tuesday at 7 PM, the Portland Python User Group will be meeting, featuring Leo Soto, a Jython GSoC hacker, will be presenting his DjangoCon 2008 talk “Django on Jython.”
- Wednesday at 5 PM, it’s the OEN PubTalk “Becoming socially responsible: Understanding your company’s role in the world of social media.” I’ll be hosting a panel featuring Josh Bancroft from Intel, Dawn Foster from Fast Wonder, and Marshall Kirkpatrick from ReadWriteWeb. Rest assured, I’ll be letting the smart people talk while I nod and smile. Not interested in coughing up the dough to attend? I’ve got a few free passes that I’ll be giving away, so stay tuned.
- Oregon Entrepreneur Network not your style? Sorry, you don’t get to take a night off, because there’s also the first Refresh Portland starting at 6:30 PM. Refresh Portland is a monthly talk (held every 2nd Wednesday) about design, front-end development, usability and web standards. Sound interesting? Check out the new Refresh Portland site.
I don’t see anything on Thursday, for obvious reasons. But if that changes, I’ll let you know.I knew it. Thanks to Joe Cohen for the tip that Calagator lists a Thursday event to include in this list: Thursday at 5 PM is the Luz Codesprint. Luz is a Ruby music visualization playground, aiming to create a simple, beautiful GUI for artists, and simple, beautiful code internally! This event is open to Everyone, from coders to artists to musicians, everyone’s input and contributions will be super useful.
- Friday, a bunch of local venture capital types will be gathering out at the Intel Jones Farm campus in hopes of seeing a Tesla Roadster. I hear there may be a conference there too. It’s called the Silicon Forest Forum, an event that features entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and management executives who know what it takes to create and run successful ventures. For more information and a speak line-up, visit the Silicon Forest Forum.
- The one Friday fixture that needs no reminder—Beer and Blog—starts at 4 PM at the Green Dragon. This week is a “topic” week. So stay tuned for the details on the speaker.
- And beginning Friday evening and running through Saturday its From Side Project to Startup. I don’t have to tell you that launching a business into the wider world can be daunting or confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. If you learn from other people’s experiences. How? Join this hybrid scheduled and unconference event designed to take the entrepreneurial conversations that started at BarCamp Portland and Startupalooza to the next level. To take a peek at the complete agenda, visit From Side Project to Startup.
Whoof. That’s a lot of activity. Even for our usually hyperactive tech scene.
I’m going to be trying to make as many of these as I can—especially the ones where I’m lucky enough to be “on the agenda,” as they say.
Hopefully, I’ll see you at a few of them, too.
Oh, and one last thing. If you’re interested in keeping track of what’s happening in the Portland Web and startup scene, feel free to join the Silicon Florist group on Upcoming. That way, you’ll always be up-to-date on the latest and greatest events.
The Open Web Foundation is an interesting step in the ever evolving world of technology “openness.” What started with open source code and moved to open data has now evolved to the open Web.
And that’s an important step.
What is the Open Web Foundation?
According to the Open Web Foundation site:
The Open Web Foundation is an attempt to create a home for community-driven specifications. Following the open source model similar to the Apache Software Foundation, the foundation is aimed at building a lightweight framework to help communities deal with the legal requirements necessary to create successful and widely adopted specification.
Take a moment to read that again. Because within that charge lies a very important distinction. A distinction that differentiates the Open Web Foundation from other organizations playing in this space: the Open Web Foundation is focused on the specifications that facilitate the sharing and transmission of data.
Not the data itself, the specifications.
“The Open Web Foundation is not a standards body,” said Scott Kveton. “The W3C, OASIS and others do that fantastically today. This is about helping speed the development and proliferation of open specifications so we can figure out if they make sense or not.”
My take? For the Open Web Foundation, it is more critical to understand and support how the data is being exchanged and how we build open systems that are interoperable. Because without interoperability and the ability to share, all the data in the world is useless.
So what organizations belong to this foundation? Well, you’ve hit upon another important difference. You see, the Open Web Foundation is an organization of individuals. The following folks are currently part of the foundation, but it’s a list that—obviously—is continuing to grow:
- DeWitt Clinton
- Danese Cooper
- Dawn Foster
- Eran Hammer-Lahav
- Scott Kveton
- Geir Magnusson
- Raj Mahta
- John McCrea
- Chris Messina
- Dave Morin
- Tim O’Reilly
- David Recordon
- Joseph Smarr
And as a foundation of individuals, the Open Web Foundation is open to you, as well. Simply join the Open Web Foundation Google Group to begin discussions with the organization and determine how you would like to participate.
But just because it’s an organization of individuals, that doesn’t mean it lacks community support by major players.
Who? A few folks you may have heard of:
- Six Apart
The Open Web begins to take shape
David Recordon hinted at the shift to the Open Web perspective in June:
We truly are in an inflection point when it comes to the future of the web. Today I’m wearing my “I support the Open Web” wristband which Mozilla gave away at OSCON last year. So what are you doing to support the Open Web and bring about change?
Clearly, there was a different need brewing here. A need to facilitate the development of technologies in an open and accessible way.
And that need was not being met by organizations currently working toward those ends.
News of the Open Web Foundation’s pending launch started to leak earlier this week, prompting a largely speculative post on TechCrunchIT—one which was also promoted on TechCrunch, itself—on the “Open Data Foundation,” highlighting:
A long running problem in messaging and consistency from advocates of both open source and standards has been the duplicate and overlapping efforts. The best recent example was the split within the RSS camp that resulted in a new Atom syndication format, which in the long-term did not manage to displace RSS and instead divided evangelism efforts. While a similar split along technology lines does not exist in the case of the new Open Data [sic] Foundation and the Data Portability project, it would seem that a more united and single-branded front would be more appropriate considering the shared agenda of both camps.
Hopefully, today’s announcement and the resulting coverage will help clear up the story and clarify the focus and intent of this new group.
Portland’s response to the OSCON announcement
Marshall Kirkpatrick sees the Open Web Foundation as doing the roll-up-your-sleeves dirty work that will enable the Open Web:
The Open Web Foundation is positioning itself as a complimentary organization. DataPortability.org can handle the evangelism and the Open Web Foundation will do the behind the scenes work to help developers bring code to market. Not completely behind the scenes, but you know what they mean.
Dawn Foster, one of the founding members of the Open Web Foundation, clarifies the OWF focus:
The OWF is not trying to compete with existing standards bodies (IETF, W3C, OASIS, etc.). The communities we’re working with are currently coming together in a very ad-hoc fashion, and if we can help them have clean intellectual property, it makes it easier for a community to take their open specification to a standards body.
And that sounds eerily similar to another organization with whom Dawn is deeply involved, Portland’s Legion of Tech.
[Update] For additional insight into the reasoning behind the formation of the group, see Scott Kveton’s post on the Open Web Foundation announcement.
My first-blush impressions
Is the Open Web Foundation a competitor of the Data Portability project? In terms of mindshare? Absolutely. In terms of technology? Not really. Is that competition a bad thing? Not at all.
I’ve said it time and time again, competition—either real or perceived—defines a market. If you’re in a situation where you have no competition, you’re either so far ahead of the curve that no one can perceive the value you provide (and you may not survive long enough for anyone to catch up to your line of thinking) or you’re doing something in which no one will ever see any value.
Either way, a market without competition isn’t a market.
So as divisive as it seems right now, a little competition is a very good thing. Because it will push people to get things done. It will motivate people to keep things moving. It will force organizations to more tightly define their charters and to more stringently follow their own guidelines.
And—perhaps most importantly—it will give everyone a choice of where to spend their time and energy.
A monopoly doesn’t help anyone.
Okay, so what does the Open Web Foundation mean to me?
First and foremost, the Open Web Foundation will become the facilitator of open specifications. An umbrella resource that helps manage the continuing development of open specs and a means of ensuring consistency and compatibility among the variety of technologies currently in play.
As a developer, this means you gain a trusted resource—a partner in helping develop the open Web.
“We’re trying to create a nonprofit organization that will help these organizations work together,” said Recordon. “We need simplicity in these specifications.”
The thought? Instead of people having to create innumerable organizations to manage and support individual efforts, let’s just create one. One that supports all of the different projects.
The foundation is trying to break the trend of creating separate foundations for each specification, coming out of the realization that we could come together and generalize our efforts. The details regarding membership, governance, sponsorship, and intellectual property rights will be posted for public review and feedback in the following weeks.
No doubt, this foundation will have an effect on many efforts around the Silicon Forest. And with the Portland efforts around OpenID—and locals Dawn Foster and Scott Kveton among the founding individuals—the Open Web Foundation is sure to be part of our existence.
I, for one, am looking forward to the Open Web, and I applaud these folks taking this step forward.
[Editor: Nino Marchetti, a local freelance technology writer, recently put together an article about the local Web community. And while it’s a little strange to see myself quoted in an article on my own blog, I was happy to oblige. Thanks to Nino for offering up this story.]
The Portland Internet Effect
By Nino Marchetti
What makes Portland such a hub of potential for Internet companies? Is there something in the water? Do factors like a well-established creative class, support for open source, and a lower cost of living make this a place for Web outfits to call home?
I recently set out to find answers to some of those questions. I spoke with local Web company owners, analysts, and investors. The answers vary but one thing is clear—Portland is making plenty of waves sandwiched between the tech power houses of Seattle and the Silicon Valley.
In the realm of Portland Web companies, Jive Software could arguably be considered one of the more established enterprises. Jive, which focuses on “online collaboration tools that make it easier for people to work together,” came to the local market via New York City. CEO David Hersh feels the area offers his company the right mix of things to make it easy to call this home.
“Portland has the best mix of lifestyle, business clients, and software cluster,” said Hersh. “It is less expensive and easier for us to grow a company here then in the Bay Area or Seattle.”
Hersh added Jive feels there is a good local software programmer group to draw from, but that the downside is there aren’t as many talented bodies as one might hope for—deeper pools of potential programmers exist in other markets. The local talent that is available, however, is potentially quite entrepreneurial—there is a group of Jive employees who might at some point strike out and start their own operations.
“There are plenty of opportunities,” said Hersh. “Anybody with a big vision can make it happen here.”
A smaller Web-based operation which has been trying to make it happen here is SplashCast. This company offers what vice president of business development Tom Turnbull calls a “rich media advertising and syndication platform” for media companies and brands like Sony to connect with consumers in popular social networks such as Facebook.
Turnbull, like Hersh, sees positives and negatives to Portland as a Web company cluster location. On the positive, the company loves the area for things like creativity, a growing Internet community, and less expensive house prices. He has never thought about relocating anywhere else. On the downside though, many of its clients are elsewhere.
“We pay a soft price for being in Portland,” said Turnbull. “The media companies that we partner with are not located in here. Most of the ad agencies are located in the bigger markets. Therefore, we are familiar with Jet Blue’s red eye to New York and make trips to California on a regular basis.”
Even very small Web companies are finding some success and challenges in the Portland area. One of these is Values on n. This outfit, founded in March 2006, has had some success in developing Web services which focus on “personal and small group productivity with a particular emphasis on harnessing everyone’s de-facto productivity tool: email.” This is according to company founder Rael Dornfest, who reflected on some local start up thoughts.
“By being even such a short distance from the Silicon Valley,” said Dornfest, “Portland start-ups are buffered to a certain degree from the ‘startup scene’ and so tend to spend more time thinking about building community and customer base—and, at least within the group of start-ups we know, those are viewed as fairly synonymous. There’s just something about the Portland startup gestalt that’s different—in much the same way as Portland itself feels different somehow to those who visit (and almost invariably want to stay).”
In looking at what seems to make Portland tick for Web companies, tech consultant Marshall Kirkpatrick has made some interesting observations. Kirkpatrick, who said he consults “on everything from product road mapping to site usability to social media marketing ,” has made a name for himself in the online world, writing for tech industry blogs like TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb.
“I think there’s an unusual feeling of camaraderie among startups here,” said Kirkpatrick when asked to compare Portland to other tech hotspots like San Francisco and Seattle. “It’s less nasty than San Francisco and less obscured in the shadow of a monolith than Seattle.”
Kirkpatrick highlighted that a lot of local programmers are involved in “pseudo-geekish” technologies like RSS and wikis, as well as there being a strong community of open source developers. This all adds up to a lot of “self-made Web application power users here.”
You can, of course, have local Web outfits, consultants, and others promoting the values of Portland as a tech spot on the radar, but without venture capital funding many projects remain in the garage. Portland, until late, has definitely flown under the radar in this area and one could say it still has some growing to do.
“In terms of fund raising,” said SplashCast’s Turnbull, “Portland has a bit of a bad reputation in the startup community. There are certainly fewer VCs here. That being said, we are having great success in the Portland angel investment community and are very optimistic about our future VC prospects.”
Kirkpatrick echoed Turnbull in the VC perception of Portland, saying “venture capitalists are sometimes hesitant to invest in startups based in Portland, because of the perception that this is a place you move to enjoy the quality of life—not to ruin your life giving everything you’ve got to a startup.”
Not all VCs are hesitant though about Portland Web company investment opportunities. Erik Benson, managing director of Voyager Capital, sees local outfits as offering great potential products for end users, though he also feels they “could stand to aim for a bigger scale.”
“We are enthusiastic about the level of passion and creativity that’s coming out of the Portland Web scene, particularly around Open Source and social Web technology,” said Benson. “JanRain, the leader of the OpenID movement, and Values of n, a social-Web-enabled personal assistant, are examples that highlight those areas.”
“There are a number of companies in the Portland area I’ve looked at that I would consider quite interesting,” said Wiggins. “There’s a good pool of talent both on the engineering side and, to an extent, on the executive side as well.”
Wiggins has observed a lot of local Web companies focused on using the Internet as a tool for taking care of some kind of problem. This can range from online collaboration like Jive does to managing multiple fast food locations as a franchisee.
Also observing the Portland Web scene are analysts like Raven Zachary of The 451 Group and bloggers such as Rick Turoczy of Silicon Florist. It is observers like these which can fan or quench the flames of potential hot companies with their comments.
“With this many highly-independent, intelligent people in Portland,” said Zachary, “you’re going to see a lot of startup activity here… Portland is becoming a destination for the California tech scene as they grow up and want to settle down and have a family while continuing to pursue tech.”
He also noted, realistically, Portland is not the “center of the tech universe.”
“That won’t change,” said Zachary.
Turoczy, for his part, maintains feverish coverage of local Web companies as information is passed along to him. This perhaps gives him one of the most insider views of all on what works locally and what doesn’t.
“I think the Silicon Forest—if we define the Forest as stretching from the coast over to Bend and quite a ways down south and up past Vancouver—has the potential to be a hot bed for Web startups,” said Turoczy. “I don’t think we have really realized its true potential, yet. We’ve taken steps. And I think we have a good start.”
[Editor: Given the wealth of cool events happening in Portland on any given night, I thought it might be beneficial to have the people who drive these get-togethers give you their take on the events. “Why should you attend [whatever]?” So, with that, I introduce a new Silicon Florist series: Five Reasons]
Adam DuVander gives us five reasons we should all consider attending Portland Web Innovators.
- You enjoy topics that are a mixture of tech, design, and business.
- You like to learn about new projects and find collaborators
- You love building on the web, no matter what your job title is or what technology you use.
- You think about what can happen tomorrow, not what can’t happen today
- You want to learn from a live collaborative discussion between passionate people.
Sound like you? Well you’re in luck. Because the next Portland Web Innovators get-together is this week,
Tuesday (April Fools’!) Wednesday, April 2 at ISITE Design beginning at 7 PM. Entitled “Publishing Platform Wars!” the gathering will provide the opportunity to join the pdxwi types—the real users of these publishing systems—as they compare site publishing tools like Drupal, Bend-based ExpressionEngine, and WordPress.
[Editor’s note: I’m going to begin expanding the Silicon Florist beat, a bit, to provide coverage of new startups in the Silicon Forest area—as they come into being. Not only do these incredibly young companies need a little limelight, it will be interesting to cover them from their inception forward. Looking forward to your feedback on this expanded scope. And, if you’re starting a shop, please drop me a line.]
Please welcome a new startup to the block.
Portland-based Cloud Four, a Web strategy and development shop, boasts a team of known-entities from the Portland area and shows promise of quickly becoming a mainstay in the local development community.
I hear you. “Do we really need another Web dev shop in town?” And to that, I’d respond that I think we need more and more shops in town that think like Cloud Four.
Our philosophy emphasizes user experience over ego-driven, impractical designs or isolated, finicky engineering…. We believe that authenticity and integrity matter. We give you the advice we would give ourselves if we were in your shoes—even if it means less work for us.