Well, this is the last thing I expected on this Frenetic Friday. But it seems that arguably the de facto hub of the Portland startup tech scene, CubeSpace, is unfortunately in dire straits.
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.
Our friends over at the Beaverton-based OTBC are always trying to help startups and entrepreneurs in the Portland area—like by hosting entrepreneurial speed dating sessions and sponsoring events like Portland Lunch 2.0 and Open Source Bridge.
Now, the OTBC could use a little bit of our help. In the form of feedback:
We get input at our lunches, and through our Meetup.com site, but we’d like to round that out with input from a larger sample of the Portland area tech entrepreneur community. So please take three minutes to let us know what kinds of programs you’d like to attend. These are mostly ratings of 1-to-5 to show interest level in a topic. Lots of ideas are listed, but it goes fast. Really! Three minutes. (OK, maybe four minutes at the outside.) Thanks!
I know you can help, because everyone has an opinion. They’re like… well, everyone has one.
So take a few minutes out of your busy schedule and click some buttons. The OTBC—and our entire startup community—will be better for it.
Yesterday, a number of us celebrated the 14th anniversary of a gift Ward Cunningham gave to the world, the Wiki. So today seemed like an appropriate day to celebrate a new gift that Ward—and his current company AboutUs—have given to the Web community. Something that features some of that same Wiki goodness and yet, brings something new to the table, the AboutUs widget.
What’s the AboutUs widget do? Quite simply, it provides a chunk of dynamically updated information about any Web site referenced in AboutUs to any blog—actually any site for that matter. Or, as the creators of the widget describe it:
Whatever your blogging forte, the widget is a way for you to serve your readers better by providing an unobtrusive introduction to websites you’ve mentioned. The best part is, if you or your readers have ideas for improving this info, editing the AboutUs page updates the widget automatically.
I’ve been using the widget for a few months in private beta—coincidentally one of the first posts to include it was about AboutUs—and I couldn’t be happier with its performance.
And now, you can use the widget, too. Just go to any AboutUs page and look in the right sidebar for the widget code.
What’s that? The site you want to feature doesn’t have an AboutUs page? It only takes a few seconds to add it. Just add it, provide a short description and some topics, and voila! Widget worthy.
But how did the this little piece of widget magic come about? That, my friends, is an interesting little story. Gather round and let me spin a little tale….
AboutUs Widget: The True
Hollywood Portland-collaboration Story
Not so long ago, I was a wee bit frustrated. I wanted to provide additional information on the companies about which I was writing, but I didn’t want to keep repeating the same boilerplate over and over—and I wanted to make sure that it remained as fresh as possible.
What I wanted was something like the CrunchBase widget. Something simple and compact that provided necessary details about the company.
But there were a couple of problems with the CrunchBase widget as far as Silicon Florist was concerned. What were they? I’m glad you asked (because I’m going to tell you anyway).
First, most of the companies I write about aren’t in CrunchBase—and aren’t likely relevant to the majority of the CrunchBase population. Once they reach that level, they’re a bit above my pay grade. Second, an important part of the CrunchBase data set is “funding.” Given that most of the startups I profile are pre-funding side projects or garage gigs, that was a gap. Third, in my experience with CrunchBase—when I tried to edit the content for Vidoop to indicate that it was, in fact, a Portland company not a Tulsa company anymore—the updates weren’t “dynamic.” They required approval. Meaning, that the CrunchBase information could be incorrect for the time that the majority of the folks were reading the posts. Finally, as much as I loved the CrunchBase content, it simply wasn’t homegrown.
So that got me to thinking: maybe I should build a little database and widget of my own? A database that contained relevant details on the companies or projects that I write about. That contained the information I thought was relevant—and that I could edit on a moment’s notice so that it was always fresh.
And after about two seconds of thinking about the time and effort required to build and maintain that kind of resource, I smacked myself for even letting that thought enter my head. Or I noticed some shiny new Silicon Forest startup about which I could write.
Honestly, it’s a bit cloudy.
Besides, if I built it, it would only be available to me. And seriously, how useful is that? That’s right. Not very.
If only, I thought. If only there were some structured database of Web site information that I could access. Some set of data that was always up-to-date, that was easy to embed, and that had access to information on the types of companies and projects I tended to cover.
And if only it existed in the Silicon Forest. A homegrown solution, as it were.
And then, there I was standing at Portland Lunch 2.0. And there was Ward standing there.
And then it hit me.
AboutUs has a structured database of the Web site information I need. AboutUs is always up-to-date—and if it’s not, I can change it. I mean, it’s a wiki, right? And AboutUs has every single Web site ever—and if it doesn’t I could add it in a matter of seconds. Best of all? AboutUs is a homegrown Portland, Oregon, Silicon Forest production.
So, I walked up to Ward and said, “If you’ve got a second, I have an idea….”
And Ward was kind enough to listen. And we talked it through. And it turned out that there was something interesting for AboutUs there, too. It provided another way to distribute the AboutUs content to a variety of providers and a way to get folks back to AboutUs to edit and update their content.
So a few meetings, some note card sketches, and countless hours of coding that fell on someone else’s shoulders besides mine, and we have the first iteration of the AboutUs widget.
I can’t help but take pride in helping this little widget come into being—if only as being one of the sparks of the idea. And I couldn’t be happier to get the chance to work with the amazing AboutUs team—Ward Cunningham, Didip Kerabat, BJ Clark, Vinh Nguyen, and Jon Farr—to bring the idea to fruition.
This is still an early first step. And there’s room to improve. So give the AboutUs widget a shot. Embed it. Test it. Give me or them feedback about what you’d like to see.
We’ve already got some ideas on how we can improve it and what features can be added. But it would be great to hear from you—and to see you adding it to your blogs and Web sites.
At the very least, you’ll find the widgets a regular addition to Silicon Florist blog posts. Hopefully, they provide you with some relevant and meaningful information beyond my usual blather. And if not? You can always change them—unlike my blather.
I’ve spent the last few days in Austin, TX, at SXSW Interactive, the annual gathering of some of the best and brightest Web types sharing their experience and ideas.
But it’s not all about the presentations. Truly, it’s all about proximity. Because every presenter, every leading thinker, and every attendee have plenty of time to talk with one another over meals or over a beer.
Suffice it to say, if you’re looking to get the chance to chat with the folks who are influencing the Web, this is a target rich environment.
This year, I went to SXSW with the intention of learning more about other entrepreneurial communities. To uncover ways that other metropolitan areas were trying to make their communities stronger in order to capitalize on the talent of creative developers.
I managed to make some great connections and learn a thing or two. Here’s what I took away from the conversations.
Portland is not a special snowflake
It’s no secret that I think we’ve got a phenomenal Web, mobile, and open source community. I think the mix we’ve got is special. And there’s little doubt that I think we have the single most amazing technology community anywhere.
But I also admit that I may be a little biased.
Still, for all the love I have for Portland, we’re not unique in our struggles to foster an entrepreneurial community that helps the brilliant people of the Silicon Forest earn a living doing something that they love.
There are communities all over the US trying to make this work. Some of them are taking steps similar to Portland. Some of them are coming up with new ways to deal with the solution. Folks from Asheville, NC, are finding ways to fund projects with government dollars. Boulder is running a series of Ignites that are continuing to draw the community together time and time again. People in Houston and Kansas City are using coworking spaces to get members of the community working together and sharing ideas. DC is using things like Tech Cocktail to help facilitate connections—and the tech scene is getting the opportunity to advise the local government on issues. And the guys at Silicon Prairie News are pulling in some amazing speakers for Big Omaha, an event that will help solidify their entrepreneurial community.
I’m hoping to spend more time with these folks over the coming months, visiting their communities, learning more about what they’re doing, and sharing more about what Portland is doing.
It looks like the trip to Seattle Lunch 2.0 was just the first of many diplomatic missions.
Funding for Portland projects must come from investors in Portland
Another conversation that repeated itself throughout the conference was the discussion about how to fund an entrepreneurial environment. And time and time again it came back to one simple point: for funding to work, it has to be local.
Now this works one of two ways. You either make your locality where the money is—by moving to the Valley for example—or you find local money to fund your project, local angels to invest in startups, and local funds to support larger investments.
Obviously, I’m leaning toward the latter. (And that’s what makes tonight’s Nedspace event especially well timed.)
Portland has a great deal in common with China
You heard me right. Yes, yes. It surprised me, too.
I didn’t intentionally go to the conference to learn about the entrepreneurial environment in China. But as I began to learn more and more about it, I realized that the Portland startup scene had a great deal in common with the Chinese startup environment.
They’re building phenomenal products in China that none of us know about. They’re pushing technology in ways that rival or eclipse our ability to deploy it. China is perceived to have a wealth of development talent that outside companies want to tap. They’re attracting more and more entrepreneurs who see China as a land of opportunity. And the Chinese want to do business—but they want to do it on their terms.
Sounds pretty familiar to me.
Portland can succeed in Portland’s own way
Finally, the overarching theme of the conference sounded eerily similar to something I’ve tried to champion in Portland: Work hard at doing what you love and you will succeed.
No matter if it’s Zappos shipping happiness or Gary Vaynerchuk hustling wine or a bunch of volunteers putting together an open source conference or the Bac’n guys selling premium pig parts. It doesn’t matter. Doing what you love—and working your ass off to do it—will lead to success.
And I don’t know anyone who works harder at doing what they love than the folks in the Portland startup scene.
Thanks, again, SXSW for making me think even more about Portland
So that’s what I got out of SXSW, this year. No doubt the 60+ Portland types who were there each got something completely different out of it.
But that’s the magic of SXSW. And that’s the primary reason I’ll keep going back to SXSW as many times as I can.
So I go all the way down to Texas to think about Portland some more. But that’s just how I am. Did I make some incorrect intuitive leaps? Do you disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The word of the day for the Open Source Bridge team? Serendipity. Or maybe serendipitous.
Either way, it was quite an interesting day for the volunteers working to bring an open source conference to fruition here in Portland in June.
We were excited to get a mention from Dawn Foster in Web Worker Daily as she interviewed Audrey Eschright on community organized conferences:
I’ve worked on FOSCON (a free Ruby event that took place during OSCON in previous years), BarCamp Portland, Ignite Portland, WhereCamp Portland, and now Open Source Bridge. The camps (unconferences) were all quite similar to each other to organize, but Open Source Bridge is much bigger than anything else I’ve worked on. There’s a lot of extra planning involved in doing a 1,000-person conference compared to a 300 person BarCamp. You can pull off an unconference in a short period of time, with fairly limited resources, but a big conference requires more structure.
Then the folks at OpenSourcery were kind enough to give us a few minutes to talk about the conference during a packed Lunch 2.0. Unfortunately for me, Jake Kuramoto successfully threw me under the bus again, much like Seattle Lunch 2.0.
Then, little did we know that, while we were enjoying OpenSourcery’s hospitality, something incredibly—well serendipitous—was happening at the same time.
And then he found Open Source Bridge. And then he wrote a post called “An Alternate OSCON?” offering:
Then someone sent me a pointer to http://opensourcebridge.org/ which is in Portland on June 17-19. Now I have an incentive to see if people want to go there. San Jose is closer to Berkeley, so I’d rather go there, but a really open OSCON would be something that’s worth supporting. There are other new projects that don’t have space at OSCON, so maybe we could all get together in Portland and see what happens.
(If you’re not familiar with Dave Winer, you should be. According to Wikipedia, he is “generally credited with the exposition of RSS as ‘Really Simple Syndication,’ now a world-wide phenomenon, and the first to implement the feed ‘enclosure‘ feature, one of several necessary ingredients for podcasting at the time it first emerged.”)
Whoof. That’s a big unplanned day of serendipity.
It’s incredibly gratifying to see the momentum continue to build for this entirely volunteer run conference. It’s good for Portland. And it’s good for the open source community.
Big news today for Portland and the world of wiki. Portland-based AboutUs has secured $5 million in Series A funding led by Voyager Capital. And in equally good news, the company plans to use the infusion of cash to expand their staff.
It’s always impressive when a Portland company lands funding, but given the current economic conditions, this is especially welcome news.
Quoting heavily from my post on ReadWriteWeb:
How does a small startup secure capital in such turbulent economic times? Being profitable helps – something AboutUs achieved by mid-year 2008. The company is forecasting continued growth, this year. Ray King, CEO, said the company is targeting $5 million in revenue for 2009. The primary source remains advertising, but the online marketing services AboutUs sells – including content creation and custom page development – continue to gain traction.
Another reason for investor confidence? The staff. AboutUs holds a special place in the world of wiki as the employer of Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the wiki, and they continue to attract new talent. They recently hired a number of new employees, including CFO Jack Williamson. King hopes to use the new funding to increase the size of the company to around 50 employees by the end of 2009, up from its current staff of 32.
The company also received a nice write-up in the Portland Business Journal today. But, of course, the Business Journal being what it is, you won’t be able to read it unless you’re a subscriber.
For more on the news, see Mike Rogoway’s post on the Silicon Forest blog.
Other good news? The celebration for this announcement has already been set. Don’t forget, AboutUs is buying us lunch—or rather Lunch 2.0—next month.
At a time when the news is all-too-full of layoffs and dire economic forecasts, it’s incredibly uplifting to see an open source company looking to expand its staff—especially a company that so quintessentially reflects the ideals of the Portland community.
So what’s up for grabs? I’m glad you asked.
- Drupal Theme Developer
- Project Manager, Software Development Team
- Senior Software Engineer
- Software Engineer
- Software Engineer, PHP
- User Experience Developer, Junior
Not interested in working there? No problem. You can still come have lunch with us there, next year.
For more information on the company and the available positions, visit OpenSourcery.
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?”