Hiatus Explainious

This post is about time.

First my time away. What started as slow posting because of poor internet connectivity while attending a trade show morphed into pre-holiday festivities, then time at the cottage (and more poor internet connectivity) and then a little bit of new years reflection (on time and goals). Each in their own just a short period of non-posting but strung together …..  an eternity – or so it seems.

That’s the thing with time – it’s the perceiver that gives meaning to its passage, and decide what events are important.

What got me interested in time is that I’ve been teaching myself stop motion animation for a project I’m developing. It’s an interesting Art. Single shots taken over a protracted period are strung together to create the perception of movement over a much shorter time scale. 15 shots which may take an hour to compose – are seen as 1 second of animation. 

It’s the minds ability to connect some things (like a sequence of images) while holding others at bay (such as the fact that clay cannot move or talk) that gives the resulting animation meaning.

That same process is all around us. Over the holidays a friend said when we were talking about the rise of new media said:

“Everyone enamored with the technology overestimates the speed at which it will be adopted while those affected by it underestimate the profound changes it will make to the industry.”

We see the world the way we believe it should be. That’s why profound insights come from people at the edges of, or new to, an industry. Their vision isn’t framed by the same core beliefs so their observations and insights can be broader – and occasionally more basic.

What’s more the beliefs that shape our understanding are constantly, but slowly, evolving. The more the belief is core the more resistant it is to change (Work as self definition etc.)

It’s mapping these slow changes in underlying collective belief that lead us to new opportunity.

Sometimes time off for reflection is a good thing. Only time will tell if this was.

A Social Media Alphabet

A – Advertising – is their any other business model?
B – Beta – a permanent state 
C – Conversions – moving users to the next phase in a web relationship
DDigg – thousands of voices saying “hey that’s cool” 
E – Engaging – connecting personally – social media’s goal 
FFaceBook Applications – hanging around with a popular kid hoping it rubs off on you
G –Search (Actually Google – no one else really matters)
H – Hits – don’t count – but page views, time on site, and links do
I – Invitations – as in building hype by making services exclusive (at least for a time)
J – Just Friends – friendship has stages but that’s unknown in social software
K – Karma – your deeds really last forever – especially on the web 
L – Links – the glue that holds the web, and people, together
M – Mobility – all the connections and a sense of place
N – Network – it’s the social kind that matters
O – Optimization – the process of fixing that’s most broke 
P – Page rank – See Search
Q – Queries – Investors or databases it’s the right answer that counts
RRecord Industry Association – proving suing users is a business model
S – Subscription – the quaint idea users would actually pay for a service
TTechnorati – tracking who cares about you and how important you are
U – User generated content – letting users enrich your site and their lives
V – VoIP, video and viral – two hot trends and how they got there 
W – WiFi – making coffee shops offices
X –  cross connections – the proof that there really are very few words wih X
YYouTube – proving 320x 240 pixels is the new television (ads and all)
Z – zzzzzzz where you should be if you got this far

Ottawa – Branch Plant City or New Model Time

Back in the days of strut and bluster Ottawa called its self Silicon Valley North. That seems a little hollow now, as one more Ottawa tech company, its largest – Cognos – surrenders control of its destiny to IBM.

What this latest sale makes clear is just how little depth the Ottawa tech sector has. Unlike our perceived rivals we lack diversity in company size which provide the customers, partners and mentors that grow small companies into large ones. We also lack the head offices which train mangers into visionaries and leaders.

Scratch below the surface and something else become clear – the cities current OCRI focused economic development model isn’t working. 

Whether that is due to fuzzy vision at OCRI,  who’s mission statement is all things to all people, or equally fuzzy vision from the city which sole sources most of its economic development dollars to a “member-based … corporation” somehow believing that the memberships interest is synonymous  with civic interest. 

What ever the reason it’s time to try something else – because what we’ve been doing seem to be leading us to an economic destiny as a branch plant city – churning out code and research and shipping that, and value it creates, out of town.

The answer I believe is not more funding – but more diverse funding. What’s needed is more organizations vying with each other to develop more and better programs.

This democratization of economic development does several things – First it encourages groups to have clearly defined targets and measurable outcomes. But is it does more – buy spreading funding among a multitude of groups the city benefits by being able to test multiple approaches simultaneously – a tremendous competitive advantage during times of change such as is happening both in Ottawa and globally.

Unlike the current central planning approach diversity works best at discovering new models and approaches – in part because it organizes and leverages more relationships to build on broader strengths and connections within the community– and those very connections also spread to knowledge that helps everyone become slightly more competitive.

One needs to look no further than the tremendous resurgence in small software companies whose needs are largely met by volunteers – first through Venture Creation Group and latter through an evolving network of BarCamps and Meet-ups. These groups could be significantly more valuable as engines of economic development if they were able to implement more ambitious programs, using the same technology and enthusiasm that connects them to address systemic issue they face as companies and economic contributors to this city. 

My vote is for a new model.

OttawaCamps – where from here?

For the past 20 months I’ve been an organizer of Ottawa’s Bar and DemoCamp scene. It’s been an interesting experience from a community development and community self-definition perspective.

Alec Saunders kicked the whole thing off with his blog review of TorCamp and his interest in bringing the camp concept – and its ability to energise a community – to Ottawa.  I’ve been involved since.

At the time it was something Ottawa desperately needed. The start-up community was un-connected and could not see where individual interests formed the basis for common community. The excitement at that first Camp was incredible – the action and discussion frantic as a pent-up need had finally found release. It was the genesis of a series of events built around the Camps open participation model – and guided (at least in my mind) by the premise that Camps could be a key economic development tool.

In almost every jurisdiction supporting entrepreneurship and small companies is a difficult job – in part because there are so many – and in part because their needs are so diverse. That is true only when one thinks of them individually and don’t harness their capacity to help one another. 

The other part of the problem is that unorganized individuals cannot articulate how the policy and service framework needs to change to better serve them – and do not have the political strength to overcome the institutional inertia even if they can articulate viable policies.

As tech start-ups we in Ottawa face a unique set of problems. Our local customer base is dominated by large institutions with entrenched purchasing policies that favor more established companies. What’s more as a city we have a relatively small proportion mid-sized firms that have both the money and will to explore new technology as part of their competitive advantage. It’s not just the revenue that’s the issue – it’s the local lead customer who can both serve as both subject matter experts and local client while working through inevitable early deployment hiccups. We often have to look outside the city – increasing costs – and as a result enhancing a condition for failure.

It would seem to me that OCRI could be instrumental here – as a conduit to the mid-size companies that are predominately their members – and as an advocate for the practice of being early adopters of local technology. But without our community asking our elected city representatives – we will never get that benefit from the cities contribution to the OCRI budget.

Likewise the Co-working – which Ian Graham is spearheading through his CodeFactory project seems to be a low cost way to both connect tech workers (increasing the opportunities for team formation) while providing a mentorship and events hub. (Disclosure: I was a partner until I decided to concentrate on Social Media consulting)

Here again Ottawa start-ups have a unique disadvantage. Unlike other cities which typically have several competing economic development agencies Ottawa has farmed it municipal responsibility out to OCRI.  And other levels of government want to know OCRI’s involvement in a prospective project. In my mind this creates a funding bottleneck that chokes off ideas and trials unless they have been blessed.

Again as a community if we want to change this we need to act in concert towards our common goals.

It goes further than this. Funding for start-ups is a problem across the country. I’ve seem policy recommendations to Revenue Canada from BarCamp participants in Montreal and Toronto to address this. We need a national voice and the OttawaCamp community should be part of this.

All of this is to say that I wish the discussions about DemoCamp6 (here, here) were about how to address known  community issues instead of whether YouTube videos were appropriate (I ok’ed them because I’d wanted them to serve as forum to discuss new marketing channels) or who is entitled to present (Moda is a start-up – abet a successful one – that I hope will continue to be involved because we can all learn alot from them).

The Camps have helped foster a more connected community. Lets think about how they can be used both for grass roots connection and learning – but lets focus some of our energy on the structural issues that impede starting a tech company in Ottawa.

Social Media at 28.8

I`m at the cottage. Peaceful and slow.

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Plenty of time for a quick paddle or swim while the latest Viral Video Chart or ITConversations podcast loads. Out to pick raspberries for pie as my RSS subscriptions update and plenty of time to compose before posting, to keep the phone line free for neighbours calling.

There`s a different pace in the woods – more deliberate. Some say more authentic.

It`s not that our cottage is far from the city. It`s an easy communte, less than an hour to downtown. And a 10 minute drive to the nearest town (Low Quebec for map fans) 2 minutes as the crow flies. But even Low doesn`t have high speed despite a 5 year old national program to promote rural broadband, and a mayor keenly aware of the economic opportunity it would bring.

Even if he could get 1.0M for most of his residents – that`s still only a hundredth of what`s available in some cities, and less than a third of what some wireless providers can deliver.

As the rest of the world moves to faster and faster connections, and more pages will be optimized for those connections. For a while we`ll have the Mobile Internet to thank – because it`s growth will put the breaks on that optimization process – keeping average connection to less than 3M – but if Google and friends have their way with the 700Mhz auction the pressure on mobile to increase connection speed, combined advances in receiver technology (frequency negotiating cognative radio) and the new devices with no legacy hold backs mobile speeds will rise – dramatically.

What I`ve learned after a week on dial-up alone is that its high speed that has made the world flatter – and made social media possible.

There may be 6 degrees of Separation when everyones on the same network – but rural folks know it`s not the same network at a twentieth of the speed – and that a loss for all of us.

DemoCamp & Shared Office Survey

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DemoCamp is on June 18 (next Monday) – the last one before we take a short summer break.

As usual we’re at the Clock Tower on Bank Street.  Doors open about 6:30 and demos starting a little after 7:00. Sign-up is at www.barcamp.org/DemoCampOttawa5.

Camps have also spawned another trend – a growing number of cities are launching shared office facilities.

A group in Ottawa has been investigating this. Before they lease a great little office they’d like to ask a few questions of the Ottawa Camp Community.

If you’re developing a product or service with visions of growth and market share take a few moments to fill out the survey .  For more information see.

See you at DemoCamp on June 18.

I like words

I like words. Don’t use them particulary well – so I use dictionaries.  Sometimes more that one but generally just one because it’s typically spelling not meaning that I’m after.  

I stumbled upon Kate Trogovac’s site (she has some interesting things to say about online marketing). She must also like words because on her personal blog she linked to I a great video of Erin McKean the editor of the New Oxford Dictionary, telling Google “10 things I wish People knew about dictionaries“.  

It’s 50+ minutes of entertaining insightful discussion of a tool we all use but rarely think about. Her turn of phrase and stories are inventive and kept me wishing for a working vocabulary that was 10 time bigger. (Back to that dictionary again)  

In keeping with the theme of this blog listen carefully though and your hear some insightful ideas about the online content and copy right protection (who knew that dictionaries put in fack words as copy right traps).

Here’s someone who sees how form influnces use – for instance browsing a dictionary is fundamentally a different expereince that searching electronically for a word. But also understands that giving people the information they want in a variety of different ways – means both greater use – and new and different types of use.

Doesn’t everyone need a Treo with a 2000 page dictionary – I do. But then I like words.