Ever since I promised Bill Lynch that I would stop publishing pure “we got funded” sorts of stories, I’ve had a challenge. You see, people tend to drop press releases when they raise money. So it’s a good time to cover them. But if I chose to act on those releases, my posts couldn’t just be about the funding, I promised Bill. There had to be another angle.
At the beginning of the week, a whole bevy of tech companies announced funding. Among them? The Dachis Group, “the world’s largest Social Business consultancy.”
Now, yes, there is a Razorfish outpost here in town. And yes Jeffrey Dachis—founder of Dachis Group—helped found Razorfish back in the day. But that’s not the connection I’m seeing. No, the connection is a little less direct. But interesting nonetheless. Read More
How is it already Thursday? Oh. Well, if it is that means it’s time for another episode of memePDX.
This week, it’s the “acquisition edition.” Cami Kaos and I talk about Jive acquiring Filtrbox, StepChange getting acquired, AboutUs acquires Jyte from JanRain, Beer and Blog turns two, the first Lunch 2.0 of the year, Mercy Corps helping Haiti, Google’s approach to China, and Google Docs will allow uploading documents. And thank you so much to Joe Christensen at Blaze Streaming Media for loaning us a Tricaster so we could even do the show this week. Read More
When I was looking forward to 2010, I mentioned that I thought there were some acquisitions on the horizon for Portland companies. I mean, based on what’s been happening, it seemed only reasonable that there would be a few. But I had no idea so many of those acquisitions would be rearing their respective heads in the two weeks of 2010.
Now, there’s another one. On the heels of Bac’n getting gobbled up and Jive snapping up Filtrbox, StepChange Group has announced that they have been acquired by Powered. Read More
[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.
Sidecar 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).
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.
Today, Portland-based StepChange Group took the stage at MIX08 to demonstrate a groundbreaking new application: the world’s first gesture-driven, Microsoft-Silverlight powered user interface on a mobile device.
The data-driven touchscreen interface, dubbed MIXr, runs in the Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 environment, and was a proof-of-concept to showcase the functionality of these cutting edge development environments for the MIX audience.
Aside from the Portland angle, why is this newsworthy?
In my opinion, the release of the MIXr application is important for two specific reasons.
First, it proves the viability of Silverlight as an environment for delivering rich mobile applications. And, on a day when the use of these types of technologies in the mobile environment is being rejected by a major player, that’s a pretty big win.
Second, it gives us a glimpse into the future of social networking.
Unlike many of today’s “social networks on mobile devices,” the MIXr application, developed by StepChange in partnership with San Francisco’s Stimulant, demonstrates how the future of social networking may transition to your mobile device.
In other words, this isn’t a “m.” mobile view into an existing social network application; it is the social network application:
[MIXr] uses real-time user updates to track the mood and status of clubs and venues—and helps friends to connect and coordinate with one another during a night out.
It aggregates user ratings, such as a venue’s mood, line length, and music, and uses interactive data visualization to make it easy to figure out what’s hot and what’s not.
“Rich mobile applications are going to quickly change the way we use the Web everyday,” said Tate. “We’re focused on creating applications that leverage the powerful advantages of location, personalization and communication that the mobile environment provides – and have chosen Silverlight as our platform because of its portability and performance.”