Tag: Portland

Oregon’s K-12 tech education sucks: A geek call to action

When I began the conversation about making Silicon Florist a self-sustaining entity, it was because I had—and continue to have—a number of ideas for trying to help startups in our area. And for helping Portland reach its potential.

And I’d like to spend more time doing that sort of thing. Because it’s important to me.

But there was another area I was thinking about helping, as well.

It’s a startup, of sorts. Full of creative entrepreneurial types. People who generally have more passion than you and I. People who really want to make a difference. People who, like many of the startups around here, don’t get nearly the recognition or support they deserve.

Students. The people who are going to inherit all of this crazy stuff we’re trying to accomplish. And people who are likely experimenting with technology and building some equally cool Web products in their free time.

We have a great deal in common, actually.

And so I’d been toying with some ideas. And thinking about some things. That might be able to help those people. Where I might be able to share some expertise or some time.

Because, quite honestly, not a day goes by writing this blog that I don’t draw on something I learned in my high-school journalism class. Not one day.

And so, I was plodding along slowly. Thinking about what we might be able to do.

Then, today, some news hit me right between the eyes: Oregon schools get a D for technology.

The 11th annual report of “Technology Counts,” produced by the specialty newspaper Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, gives Oregon schools an overall D grade on technology. Only Rhode Island, Nevada and Washington, D.C., scored fewer points than Oregon’s 66 out of 100.

A D? Are you kidding me?

And just like that, it dawned on me: this is the opportunity.

This is one of those special times when an idea meets an action. When the time to act is coupled with the ability to act intelligently. This is the tipping point. Or spark. Or whatever you want to call it. This is the call to arms. The call to action. For all of us geeks and geek-o-philes.

This is an opportunity for you, me, and every other startup. It’s an opportunity to help. It’s an opportunity to give something back to this community. And an opportunity to improve the technology base in Portland for the future.

How? There are literally tons of ways we could do it. Tons!

From interships to class visits to scholarships to events to competitions to apprenticeships to… well, as I said, “Tons.”

I don’t think this is a question of “if?” I think this is a question of “how?”

And I think this news only highlights how much these things need to happen. And how quickly.

Maybe I’m the only one. Or part of a small group. But I think this is our chance to really do something valuable for Portland. And for Oregon. As a group.

Who’s with me?

Startupalooza: Join fellow startups to compare notes

Anecdotally, I can tell you that there’s a great deal of interest in startups around Portland. But sometimes, it’s difficult to put a finger on just how many people are interested.

Until events like Startupalooza come along. And then that fuzzy “level of interest” becomes exceedingly obvious.

How obvious? Well, the event, like Legion of Tech‘s Ignite Portland events, currently ranks among the most popular events on Upcoming. And not just in Portland. On Upcoming. Period.

And with good reason. Startupalooza’s list of presenters reads like a who’s who of current and former Silicon Forest startups.

Companies and products on the docket include:

But wait, there’s more.

Sarah Gilbert, Marshall Kirkpatrick [Update: Just received word that Marshall will be unable to attend.], Justin Kistner, and I will be there on a “technopreneur” Q&A panel, as well.

I know, I know. I struggle to fathom how we’re going to squeeze all of this into one afternoon. But why not show up and see if we can? And then, plan to stick around. Word around the campfire is that there might be one or two after-event activities happening, as well.

Startupalooza begins at noon on Saturday, March 29, at CubeSpace. To RSVP, visit Startupalooza on Upcoming. For more information, see Startupalooza.

Still need more to do this weekend? You’re in luck, my friend. Go ahead, don’t be shy. Get your geek on.

Sweet! UI Candy for your application

UI Candy

More sticky sweet goodness from Portland-based Pixelmatrix Design—also known as local designer Josh Pyles—whose design chops have been highlighted on applications like Tweetpeek and Commuterfeed, to name a few. This time Pyles is offering you the opportunity to purchase a set of his glyphs for your application or user-interface development, through UI Candy.

The Glyph Collection is an essential tool in any Mac developer, or UI designer’s toolbox. With over 50 essential glyphs, this collection offers a great solution for any budget-conscious developer. These glyphs are fully resolution independent (vector), which means you can scale them to any size with no loss of quality. The glyph collection gives you the tools you need to make your app truly shine, for roughly the cost of a tank of gas.

For a mere $40, you could save yourself a ton of work. And pretty up your apps to boot. I’ve already bought them. No idea what I’m going to do with them. But, in my opinion, good work like this deserves support.

For more information or to purchase your set, visit UI Candy.

Kistner joins Silicon-Valley-based Voce Communications

Justin Kistner, a fixture in the Portland startup, design, and social media scene (who also happened to create the “Conversation” theme that skins the Silicon Florist site), has shared with me that he will be going to work for Silicon Valley communications firm Voce Communications, starting in April.

Kistner is perhaps best known for his weekly gathering of influential Portland bloggers, Beer and Blog, and his own blog on the social media scene, Metafluence.

He will be joining Voce (in spite of Steve Rubel’s recent post) as a Social Media Strategist, focusing on:

Identifying the people, places, and conversations that are advantageous for a business to engage with and recommend an approach. Then provide engagement maintenance to keep our market position moving in the right direction.

I hear you. “I thought Silicon Florist was supposed to be about Portland news?” So, why am I writing about somebody bailing on the Portland startup community for the Valley?

Well, because he’s not bailing.

Turns out Kistner will be working from Portland—and likely still for Portland companies. And I think that makes this announcement especially interesting to the Portland startup and tech community.

Why? I have three specific reasons.

First, with this hire, Portland’s social media and Web scene gets a hint of some well-deserved “street cred.”

“They want me to stay here because they like that I’m part of the Portland tech scene,” said Kistner. “And they feel that gives them more perspective. It helps them if I’m not get stuck in the Silicon Valley echo chamber.”

Second, Portland—through Kistner—has the opportunity to expose the firm that handles social media strategy for companies like Yahoo!, Verisign, Sony Playstation, and eBay, to Portland’s way of doing things.

Third, Portland gains another diplomat for meaningful cross-pollination with the Valley—in the same vein as Scott Kveton, Raven Zachary, Marshall Kirkpatrick, and countless others—whom Portland is lucky to have acting as de facto emissaries in that important epicenter.

All of those things, in my opinion, can only be good for Kistner. And good for us.

I, for one, am interested to see how this progresses and seeing who stands to benefit most from this new relationship.

Mapdango tops Mashup Camp charts

Mapdango, a slick mapping mashup from Portland-based CartoSoft that has always impressed me, has now impressed a whole heck of a lot more people—including some folks down in Mountain View, CA—by winning the Best Mashup at Mashup Camp.

According to Andres Ferrate, CartoSoft’s Head Honcho and the development power behind Mapdango [Editor: Emphasis is mine]:

There were some great mashups in the contest, including several location-based product availability mashups, some mobile mashups (very cool to think about the emerging possibilities of mashing stuff around for devices), iMovie mashups, a Flickr history mashup, and more. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see all of the mashups that were competing. Nice to think the little mashup from Portland gave those Silicon Valley mashups a run for the bling bling.

For more on Mapdango and other geospatial magic, visit CartoSoft.

Silicon Florist: Job postings

I wanted to highlight some of the interesting (read “the only”) jobs that have been posted to the Silicon Florist gig board, this week.

  • Marshall Kirkpatrick is looking for freelance Web design talent
    “I’m looking to have a couple of people I can refer to consulting clients who need web design help. These requests come my way every once in a while and I don’t know anyone who’s available and awesome. Let’s save the world from ugly web apps!”
  • MyStrands is looking for a Community Manager – Evangelist
    “This position will play a key role in creating a community around upcoming services. You will evangelize, create, execute, and evaluate community building and online marketing campaigns in line with MyStrands’ overall strategy. You will develop marketing campaigns, community programs and proactively drive communications, with a strong focus in Portland, Oregon and the Northwest.”

Remember, if you’re interested in test driving the Silicon Florist gig board, now would be a great time to stick your toe in the proverbial water. Until the end of March, you can post up to three jobs the first 20 jobs posted will be absolutely free of charge. (Turns out the Jobamatic discount code total isn’t “per user” as I had assumed.) First come, first served. Simply use the discount code “earlybird” at checkout.

GoLife Mobile: Chatting with James Whitley, CEO (Part 1)

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with James Whitley, CEO of Hillsboro-based GoLife Mobile.

I went into the conversation hoping to answer two specific questions. First, I wanted to get more details about the business reasoning behind the GoLife Mobile developer framework, Vadowerx. And second, I was hoping to get a better understanding of why GoLife Mobile found Portland a viable place to found this mobile startup.

Turns out, we wound up spending a good part of the time talking over the top of one another as we shared our complementary excitement for the potential that Portland holds, the amount of talent around here, and the distinct feeling that Portland is on the brink of something big. Really big.

And, GoLife Mobile may very well be part of helping to usher in that next big thing.

Now, there’s no way I’ll cram the entire conversation into a single post. So let’s break it into two posts, shall we? I’ll save the “why Portland?” response for part 2.

In this post, I’d like to provide some high-level insight on Whitley’s response to my questions on the Vadowerx framework.

GoLife Mobile’s framework

I’ve covered the GoLife Mobile framework before. But my cursory understanding of the framework and what it meant to the GoLife business model was admittedly tinged with a prevailing ignorance and a healthy dose of cynicism.

Whitley not only helped me understand what GoLife Mobile hopes to accomplish with the framework, he convinced me that they had a plausible way for getting mobile developers to interact with one another, contribute to the codebase, and profit from their Vadowerx efforts.

From a coding perspective, the Vadowerx framework is designed to operate much like any other application framework. When I mentioned the Rails and Zend frameworks for comparison, Whitley nodded in approval.

“We had to go with an ‘open’ approach to this framework,” said Whitley. “It is the only way something like this is going to succeed.”

Like its counterparts in the world of Web application development, Vadowerx delivers a series of pre-built components for common functions that can be plugged into mobile applications, saving the developer from coding basic elements that are often the same for any application.

“We refer to them as ‘LEGO’s, for lack of a better term,” said Whitley. “They can be combined in a variety of different ways. Combining them one way creates one application. Combining them another way could create something completely new.”

Simplifying application management for customers

A framework is great for coding. But what about the business? What does this open framework mean in terms of customers and revenue for GoLife Mobile?

Customers will likely be attracted by the simplicity of the GoLife Mobile experience. Instead of installing multiple applications, the user installs one.

“No one wants to install and maintain 50 different applications on their mobile phone,” said Whitley. “With our framework, it’s one installation: the presentation layer. All of those applications? They’re distributed and built on-the-fly when and where you need them.”

That’s great news from an application management perspective. Better yet? The applications understand one another, a continual Holy Grail of sorts for any group of applications.

“If I have two applications that share one of these LEGOs, they’re both going to have access to the same information,” said Whitley. “And there’s an intrinsic value there as users continue to personalize the applications through use. That’s when we start seeing some really exciting possibilities.”

And it’s not just mobile users that could benefit from that type of thinking.

“We needed to start somewhere, and mobile was definitely the right place to start,” said Whitley. “But this presentation layer could be delivered to any number of distributed screens, like ATMs, PCs, consoles… you name it.”

More than recognition for developers

Part of making the framework viable is encouraging developers to share ideas and concepts.

“With our framework, sharing objects is built-in,” said Whitley. “It’s not a question of whether you want to share or not, but rather how you want to share.”

But getting that type of participation requires motivation. And GoLife has hit upon something there, as well.

The applications distributed on the framework are currently supported by advertising. That means revenue for GoLife Mobile. But it also means something to the developer community.

“Recognition is great, but we felt that we needed more ways to motivate and reward the developers who take the time to contribute to the framework,” said Whitley. “And so, developers who participate have the opportunity to take a portion of the ad revenue that their components drive.”

Sharing in the wealth should have a positive impact on development, for both the company and the businesses within the mobile development community.

“We’re talking about providing a framework that not only simplifies development, it provides an incentive to participate,” said Whitley. “Wow! Can you imagine?”

The developers who have received early access to the framework are already buying into the vision.

“We were chatting with a bunch of developers last night after 11:00 o’clock,” said Whitley. “They’re excited about this framework and the potential it holds for their development business.”

From the sounds of things, I would imagine a subscription model for the GoLife Mobile service is also likely in the offing, which could provide another predictable revenue stream for the young company. And for the developers.

“Imagine installing one app and then subscribing to all the services you need to use,” he said. “There’s definitely value there.”

More to come

It will be interesting to watch GoLife Mobile continue to grow into its role as the supporter of this framework within the developer community. It’s a role that’s rife with potential. With good reason, Whitley is cautiously optimistic.

“Development—and the mobile market as a whole—is completely fragmented, right now,” he said. “This framework holds the potential to provide structure. And to let people concentrate on the things they do well.”

And that’s just part of what has me excited about GoLife Mobile. The other important area in which this company could have an extremely positive impact? Portland. In part 2, I’ll share my discussion with Whitley about Portland and his opinion on its potential.

[Editor: On a tangential note, the first meeting for Mobile Portland—of which GoLife Mobile is one of the founding members—will be held tonight. To RSVP, see Mobile Portland on Upcoming.]

Beyond the Forest: OpenID and the bigs, all hat and no cattle

It’s no surprise that Portland is rapidly becoming one of the de facto hubs for OpenID evangelism and development.

Scott Kveton, the chairman of the OpenID Foundation now calls Portland home. Portland-based JanRain is a leading force in the OpenID development effort and new Portland-transplant Vidoop is also coming on strong. If Beer and Blog is any indication, we’re all interested in getting more use out of OpenID on our blogs. And having the opportunity to sit down with David Recordon, the vice chair of the OpenID Foundation, is something that’s appealing to quite a number of us.

And while the big companies that we often encounter one way or another—Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and AOL—have all claimed to jump into the OpenID pool, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch is beginning to wonder if this isn’t all a bunch of OpenID lip service. Or to put it bluntly: Are the bigs all hat and no cattle?

The problem, though, is that the Big Four Internet companies that I mentioned above have made big press announcements about their support for OpenID, but haven’t done enough to actually implement it. Microsoft has done absolutely nothing, even though Bill Gates announced their support over a year ago. Google has limited its support to Blogger, where it is both an Issuing and Relying party. Yahoo and AOL are Issuing parties only.

This is a tenuous position at best. For as much ground as we can cover from a grassroots perspective, it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to get anyone—beyond early adopters—to take on OpenID without the support of some of these bigger entities.

Without the bigs, there is no OpenID tipping point.

But the funny thing—not funny “ha ha,” but funny “sad”—is that all of these gigantic companies are struggling with one very similar issue that would be partially—if not completely—solved by an effective implementation of OpenID: bringing acquisitions under a common login credential.

Yahoo! throws its acquirees’ respective user bases into turmoil every time it asks them to move over to a Yahoo! ID. Google takes years in its struggles to get everyone on the Google credential system. Microsoft and AOL are no different.

To me, it seems obvious that OpenID could solve this issue, now and for the foreseeable future. And I can’t be the only one seeing that.

As hard as it may be for them to accept it, the bigs need to move away from their proprietary credentialing structures. They need to embrace concepts like OpenID and OAuth for what they can do to solve their problems, today.

In short, they need to let go and let OpenID.

For now, the jury is still out on when and how the big company momentum will fall behind OpenID in terms of something more than spin and lip service. But let’s hope that day is soon approaching. For all of our sakes.

I can tell you one thing: from a grassroots level, Portland is sure to be leading the charge. And we’re not going to slowing our OpenID fandom anytime soon.

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.

New Feature: Silicon Forest Job/Gig board

It’s officially Spring. And Spring is always a good time to plant some new stuff.

As I strive to make this site more useful for both the folks who are trying to create startups here in the Silicon Forest and the folks who are interested in following those startups, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: there are a lot of people looking for other people to help them.

And sometimes, they’re looking for people to work for them.

So I thought it might be helpful to launch a gig board of sorts. And then I posed a hypothetical question on Twitter. And the response absolutely convinced me it was the right thing to do.

So, I scrambled to create the Silicon-Forest-startup-oriented job and gig board.

Now, it’s not terribly pretty (neither was this blog up until a short while ago), but it is functional.

In the interest of time, I decided to use a canned solution for the proof-of-concept. Call it an agile mentality or use Guy Kawasaki’s phrasing. Either way, it seemed best to get it out there so we could start gathering requirements. But I would like to build something custom that better meets your needs.

So please bang on it, and then let me know what features you would like to see. And if I can’t accomplish that with the canned solution, I’ll work your ideas into the custom solution I’m planning to commission.

Oh, and at this point the job board is completely blank. Which is sort of detrimental to the whole “job search” thing. And, really, who wants to be the first to jump into the pool? [Update: Thanks to Marshall Kirkpatrick (Web designer) and MyStrands (Community Manager – Evangelist) for taking the plunge!]

Well this may help. Until the end of March, anyone can post up to three jobs completely free of charge by using the discount code “earlybird” at checkout.

What have you got to lose?

Now, I know many of you have more than three jobs to post. And the “underwriting the Silicon Florist” survey directed me to get creative about finding ways to fund the continued development of this site. So, I’ve started the cost of a job posting at $50 for 2 weeks.

That seems reasonable without being exorbitant. So, let’s see how that goes.

Again, I’m looking forward to your feedback. And I’m hoping that we can make the Silicon Florist Job and Gig board a valuable resource for all of the startups here in the area.

Don’t forget “earlybird” gives you a chance to try it out for free. So please do.

%d bloggers like this: