More details below:

#1: Tony Hsieh’s (Zappo’s Founder/CEO) Desk Looks like…
#2: A Live, Working Example of a “Less” Diverse, but Dynamic Organization
#3: An Amazing Place to Work…
#4: Enforcing Culture
#5: “Let’s do a shot of rum.” + More…
#6: (Bonus!) It’s About the People You Meet/Know

If you don’t know what company Zappos is, a quick background: Zappos started in 1999 and sold shoes online, and became famous for going above and beyond the call of selling to make their customers really happy.  10 years later, they would grow to be bought by Amazon for $1.2 billion.

#1: Tony Hsieh’s (Zappo’s Founder/CEO) Desk looks like…

This is Tony’s desk:

He’s in the middle of the office with his management team, all of whom also have cubicles.  The only people I saw at Zappos who had offices were people in their legal department.  Management gets the same desks as…

… everyone else’s.  Of course, I’m guessing that the rest of the teams don’t get…

… an entire team to filter their e-mails.  Then again, they probably don’t get around 2,000 e-mails a day.  :)

#2: A Live, Working Example of a “Less” Diverse, but Dynamic Organization

One of my favourite professors at University, Dr. Peter Flynn, often warned of organizations that always hire the same “type” of people.  For example, introverted engineers hiring only introverted types would mean that there would be a less diverse response to different situations, and the ability to survive and persist calamities would be limited.

People at Zappos have *incredible* taste :) 

In its road to be sold for close to a billion dollars, I imagine Zappos has gone through its share of difficulties.  That said, Zappos, from what I’ve read and seen about it, seems to embrace (and enforce) its more monotone culture of extroverted, customer-loving folk.

Their personal backgrounds seem diverse and dynamic, but their overall core values are shared and embraced:

Core values on every employee id card.  That's Rocco, our amazing tour guide.

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface of Zappos with what I’ve read before, and a tour of their offices.  But it’s one living example of how it could work, and I’ll be researching this a bit more.

#3: An Amazing Place to Work…

… for the people who work and belong there.  By the way, we were all welcome to take as many photos as we wanted (this level of disclosure is quite crazy compared with other companies that don’t have a tour, let alone photos to be encouraged).  With that:

You can’t see the details here, but it’s a photo of their corporate challenge games at their lunch room.  There’s another photo with a full list of their (extensive) benefits, which include, among others, free food/drinks, chiropractor visits, and prescriptions.

On our way back to the hotel (driven by a Zappos employee – want to say… Megan), she noted how people at Zappos work and play together because they like the people they work with that much.  Different, no?

It’s certainly not for everyone, of course.  Given that there are multiple tours per day and each team cheers our arrival every time we pass them, I imagine it’s got to be a pretty distracting thing for work – it would be for me.  Then again, if each team takes 30 seconds (we don’t stop long at each cubicle zone, given that there’s so much to see) to cheer everyone on, it’s probably a good distraction and a good team building exercise.

#4: Enforcing Culture

To get to this sort of culture, Zappos does a few neat things.  You’ve probably already heard that Zappos offers anyone who’s made it through their training process $2,000 to leave if they don’t feel like they are a fit with the company’s culture.  One thing we experienced: while someone was being interviewed in a conference/interview room, we were asked to make as much noise and to wave at the interviewee for the interviewer to determine if the interviewee would comfortably handle tours like ours, part of the criteria for being hired at Zappos.

I had read before that Zappos tries its best to not enact policies: the idea being that policies and rules constrict the freedom and creativity of great people, and are used to curtail the not-so-accepted practices/behaviours of a few.  I learned another thing at Zappos: they are quite meticulous about performance measures and general performance.  They have systems/people in place to make sure that you’re up and at work: being late is taken quite seriously.

It’s not to say, however, that if you drop, you’re out.  In order to curb situations where employees may have legitimate difficulties or situations, there are one-two (I believe it was two) conversations an employee would have with a supervisor to improve on his/her behaviour/performance before being let go.

All said, I find it fascinating that Zappos has come up with a way to keep their current, positive culture (that their employees seem to gush on about) and ensure that people perform.  I’m sure it’s not an easy act, but they seem to have found something that works.

#5: “Let’s do a shot of rum.” + More…

Delivering Happiness is the name of Tony’s book…  Which we got.  For free, at the end of the tour.  And here’s more that they did to “Wow” us:

- At the last leg of the tour, we saw that the Zappos Insights team had…  Alcohol.  In the middle of the office.  This was the team stash.  Someone mentioned we should do a shot.  So the four of us from MicroConf did – with Rocco, our tour guide.  I’m sure it’s the first and last tour I’ll do where alcohol is involved in a billion-dollar company that doesn’t make liqour.  :)

- Pickup and dropoff for the tour (which was free) was…  Free.  No need to plan transportation.  It just happened.

I had Skinny Cow ice cream.  Want more.

- When we went by the lunch room, Rocco asked everyone to grab whatever we wanted (it was free for the employees and tour guests).  I grabbed ice cream.  Awesome.

- I have to say that Rocco’s enthusiasm, eagerness to make us feel happy and at ease – alongside with the staff we saw along the way – really made the whole experience feel really welcome.

#6: (Bonus!) It’s About the People You Meet/Know

This is less about Zappos, and more about random opportunities.  I always wanted to visit Zappos, but I never knew that they had moved to Las Vegas until Jas Panesar mentioned it.  This ultimately became my highlight of the trip to Vegas outside of the conference (Cirque du Soleil’s “O”, and finally seeing the architecture in the Luxor were deserved seconds), and I would’ve never gone without him having mentioned it.

And Jas wouldn’t have mentioned it if Frank Denbow didn’t know about it, and offer to go together.  And I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as fun/informative if David Kay didn’t come along.  He had read Tony’s book already, and offered insights into the tour and the man behind the company that we didn’t know.

Thanks for the experience and the tour!

“$0 – $1.5 million in 11 months (while working a 9-5)”

“How I Tripled Revenue with No New Traffic or Features”

“What Interviewing Hundreds of Founders Has Taught Me”

A few weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas for what was the best conference I had ever been to.  MicroConf 2011, “The Conference for Self-Funded Startups”, centered on the philosophy of getting to success quickly and independently on software-based startups.  This is different to the typical software startup route for a variety of reasons, and here are some quick comparisons:

I’m not going to go deep into explaining the differences in depth (probably another post – there’s certainly more nuances as well, like the cost/speed of failure in either case), but I’ll be happy to answer any questions.  In the meantime, to the surprises!

Surprise #1: Paradigm-Shifting Learnings

I expected to learn a few things from the conference, but not quite as many nor actionable items picked up along the way:

#1) Validating the Lean Startup, Self-Funded Routes

Like many entrepreneurs in the space, I’ve often read about lean startups, self-funded entrepreneurs, but I’ve never actually met them individually.  Here, there were plenty of examples (including attendees) who openly discussed their strategies, successes, even failures.

It all made the concepts and possibilities, particularly those from generating a successful financial position, seem so much more real/doable.

#2) Preach Benefits, Not Features

It’s now burned into my head.  It’s such a common thing for people to focus on features, not benefits.  The impact is difficult to assess, but watching Ramit Sethi‘s teardown of attendees’ sites and his mindset behind this made it difficult for me not to become a convert.

#3) Marketing Trumps Everything (Being a Good Developer is Not Enough)

This is somewhat related to #1 (validating the concepts), but this went further because Rob Walling (@robwalling) discussed his journey (and now preference) to buying for-sale products over developing his own – and the resulting success from this approach.  This comes from a developer who enjoys developing, but has found it more efficient to spend time marketing and tweaking, instead of building products.

#4) Success isn’t a formula, or at least one that succeeds every time

Too often, we hear about the “overnight” success stories, rarely hearing about the difficulties such startups have in any detail, and even less common about failed approaches and why.  Many of the presenters had no qualms doing so, often encouraging attendees to regard failures as learning experiments.

#5) Revenue is dominated by customers on the most expensive plan when they spend other people’s money.

Sales for Patrick's Bingo Card Creator: updated here (thanks @benzittlau)

Patrick McKenzie’s story and personality taught me a great many things, and this one tidbit was particularly intriguing to me.  It’s something that made sense to me, but I’ve never heard anyone actually back it up with data.

#6) While it’s great to hear about “go big or go home”, it’s often that “Small often gets you big”

I’m always a proponent of dreaming (really, really) big, and while you’ve probably often heard that small and focused can get you somewhere to become more successful, it’s the discussion of this pattern from Andrew Warner’s session (one of many good tips from the hundreds of interviews he’s done with entrepreneurs) that made me double back.

#7) Early Access > Beta

Hiten Shah talked about various intriguing things, but this nugget, backed by his research and experiences, will likely result in my next projects being “early access” vs “beta” ones.

Surprise 2: (Un)Common Tips/Themes

While there are certainly common themes with the conference – particularly with goals of succeeding financially or with customer acquisition - not everybody advocated the same advice, probably because of the broad mix of speakers and resulting themes.  For instance, there were broad, honest discussions on:

- The value of A/B Testing… but also the limited value on “obsessed” testing especially when traffic volume is low, especially with actionable things startups could do.

- Getting those initial clients is absolutely key, important, and people don’t do it enough.. but the more people know you, the more difficult it will be to experiment (especially when everything is expected of you).

- People care a *lot* about their problems and the product you make… but often, people care a lot less about the product than you think, given the day-to-day impact your product probably has on their lives.  Also, if your product is bad (concerns over releasing early), no one will care.

Before I finish, I need to note that none of the “but”s above is an excuse for not trying/analyzing the proposed advice.  All it shows is that success can be achieved differently, and that there are more layers behind each approach than one would typically see.

Surprise #3: The Speakers, Conversations, and Attendees

The diversity of perspectives among the various speakers really led to different, valuable insights.  I think the organizers deserve a lot of credit.  Here were some general themes I noted about the sessions:

1) Stories and suggestions from consultants/part-time hobbyists turned full-time founders of successful lean startups
2) Tips and experiences from successful, funded startups
3) Success from other niches, sometimes content (not product) focused startups
4) Tips on self-improvement that make a real, positive impact

I would’ve attended on the learnings from #1, but the mix really made things fresh, and it meant that the speakers themselves turned into interested attendees whenever someone else spoke.  It was really refreshing to see that: often, speakers would run off somewhere else in the midst of conferences.

Conversations and Attendees

At the end of the day (or even the day before), attendees and speakers could be seen chatting the night away.  The attendee mix was varied as well: from aspiring to practicing entrepreneurs, I met people who were involved with their local tech communities and ones who were familiar with the angel, vc crowd.  There’s too much to discuss about here on this (probably a separate post), but all in all, a wonderful time was spent learning and chatting with the various attendees.

Not every one of the 32 app submissions could win in the Apps4Edmonton competition, and I wanted to showcase a few notable entries to give Edmontonians and the Open Data movement an idea of what was entered and to give a personal “kudos” to my fellow participants.  A look at the winning apps is also included at the end.

The Apps4Edmonton Contest website: all the app submissions, including 
descriptions, can be found here (http://contest.apps4edmonton.ca/apps)

It sounded like the judges had a tough time deciding the winners, and it came down to splitting hairs at the end.  That’s not surprising to learn, given that a number of these entries were quite creative, useful, and it was clear that many had dozens, often hundreds of hours poured into the development of the applications.  I hope that the competition served as a springboard for the participants to either move forward with their application or use it as a knowledge base  for their next projects.

Notable Entries

It didn’t made sense to include a writeup/image of all 32 applications: I figure those who are interested can always run through every application on the contest website (link).   What’s included are ones, to me, that were unique and/or looked like it took a lot of effort:

(P.S., Mack Male put together a great visualization of the apps at his blog, something worth looking at!)

Edmonton FringeFest (link)

To me, Gregg and Angela Coppen’s application the most polished iPhone plus Web app entries, and I thought they were a strong contender for the Apps4Edmonton awards.  They had the largest number of votes when the competition closed, and had won the Fringe Festival prize (Edmonton Journal article).

On a technical note, you might be surprised to learn that the web app (www.fringefest.ca) was developed using the Drupal framework, an open source content management platform.  Gregg’s background in Drupal and his work on this app led to a presentation at DrupalCamp in Calgary with their case study: pretty neat!

ShareEdmonton (link)

One of the most comprehensive submissions, ShareEdmonton wasn’t borne from the Apps4Edmonton competition, but I believe it’s the sort of app that the competition was meant to inspire people to build towards.  ShareEdmonton was developed by Mack Male out of his passion for all things Edmonton, and it shows through the depth and comprehensive set of features.

ShareEdmonton does many things, but works best as  ”a local aggregation platform for Edmonton and area”.  I’ve often seen it used as an events aggregator for Edmonton, with RSS and iCal feeds available through its pages.  During the summer festival season in Edmonton, the iCal (calendar) feeds were really useful for people to find and participate in the festivals of our fair city.

It’s worth pointing out too that Mack has helped push for all things Open Data in Edmonton, like with GTFS transit information more than a year ago, and with the census data that made it much easier for apps like mine to use the information without having to scrape it through PDFs.

iFish Alberta (link)

One of the most unique application entries, I thought it was really well done for the niche crowd that it would serve.  Going by the video, the app looks quite polished and comprehensive, allowing people to not only search for fishing sites in Alberta, but also to see the lakes’ shapes, types of fish, and more!

The video above was brilliant, and I thought it’s a pretty professional, polished way for people to see the functionalities often embedded in more complex apps, and allows people like me who don’t have the mobile device (like an iPhone) to see what it could do.

MyYEG (link)

Scott Montgomerie’s app combined the housing price listings and various City of Edmonton open data catalog information to help individuals determine the value of nearby properties.  It also included an iPhone app (I wish I could comment on it, not having an iPhone), which was put together during Edmonton’s first Startup Weekend.

Edmonton School Finder (link)

This mashup helps parents find schools around their area, and quickly shows the performance metrics of the schools themselves.  I can see how parents, who are moving to or around the city, could try to find a place to stay that’s close to a higher-performing elementary, junior, or senior high school.

My Fringe (link)

One of the more interesting entries, My Fringe! made use of an existing iPhone game (at least I’m assuming this: Victor’s company was also responsible for the Pik’s Revenge) and further development to form an Apps4Edmonton entry.

MyStops (link)

If you follow the Edmonton tech scene, you’ve probably seen the MyStops app.  When downloaded on your iPhone or iPod Touch, users can simply and quickly find out what buses/trains are coming, among a number of features.  The app was demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 8, and has information for transit systems from the San Francisco Bay Area, Toronto, and even Perth, Australia!

I think it’s important to note that MyStops – as far as I can recall – was the first non-government app here in Edmonton that was built from open data.  That’s even before the Open Data Catalogue was opened in Edmonton, using the data Mack pushed for and got through TransitCamp Edmonton.

I suspect that  successful, completed initiatives like MyStops helped drive the call forward for the open data movement forward in Edmonton, and it was used, beyond an app, as an example and inspiration of what could be done when government releases open data.

Find-A-Home (link)

I think I’d be remiss not to include Find-a-Home on this list of apps: by using open data sets like locations of City Parks, Schools, Bus Stops, etc, it derives a score based on such factors to help rank a particular address you have in mind.  What’s quite interesting is that Find-a-Home won at the Make Web Not War Competition in Montreal in 4 categories, and while not an official winner at the Apps4Edmonton competition, it’s clear that the team was a winner with the open data that was released by the city.

Winning Apps

Given the existing coverage on the winning apps, I thought to do the writeups in reverse order:

The Way We Prosper: YEGLive.ca (link)

A growing startup that’s serving the local music scene, YEGLive.ca helps artists and venues connect with audiences and one another.  They’ve got, and are exploring further partnerships and models with their web + mobile application, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of what they do over the next year or so.

The Way We Live: Alertzy (link)

Alertzy pushes text alerts or e-mails for city services: for example, an Edmontonian in a suburb can sign up and have text/e-mail alerts sent to him/her the night before the garbage trucks come in to empty the garbage.  A pretty useful app that now has field-closure alerts in its arsenal, Alertzy was a deserving winner that I thought would’ve also won one of the top overall prizes.

The Way We Green: FindaDepot.ca (link)

FindaDepot is a really intriguing winner, and I think it’s a great example of how targeting specific competition categories can help application authors do well within competitions like #Apps4Edmonton.  The app itself is simple, clean, and easy to navigate, and I’m hoping people can make use of this to do more recycling.

The Way We Move + 3rd Place Overall: TXT.2.ETS (link)

It’s a bit trickier to show TXT.2.ETS given that it isn’t a web app, but it does bring something interesting to the table.  When you’re a a bus stop and you’re trying to figure out when the next bus is going to come, you text *or* tweet the stop number to the appropriate phone number/twitter handle and the bus schedules for the next few buses will be returned.

Besides for the twitter aspect, another thing that’s interesting to me was the API they ultimately exposed from their work with TXT.2.ETS, which was then used by another participant in the Apps4Edmonton competition!

The Way We Plan + 2nd Place Overall: Statistics Edmonton (link)

Statistics Edmonton was my entry into the competition, and I’m glad it worked out well.  Whether it’s for moving around or into the city, StatsYEG.com allows people to discover and share insights about our neighbourhoods.  It also allows business people and political campaigners to use information like demographics and income to help target their campaigns, and it also makes it easy for people to plot their own custom data from Excel onto the map.

1st Place: DinerInspect.ca (link)

DinerInspect won the competition, and for good reason.  The application was polished, data was unique, and it’s thoroughly useful for those of us who eat out often.  The app allows Edmontonians to see how the restaurants they want to eat (or have eaten) at fare through their food inspections.  There’s integration into looking at food establishments within neighbourhoods as well as a Streetview tab (to help people actually see which restaurant/establishment).

Summary

The Apps4Edmonton competition was the first one of its kind to finish in Canada, and it brought a variety of applications, ideas, and people together.  With competitions in Ottawa and other cities upcoming, it’ll be interesting to see what sort of applications get developed, and the impact that comes from them.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to see how the applications from this competition move forward (or not) beyond the competition.

(P.S. As explained earlier, I didn’t think it would make sense to do summaries for every one of the 32 apps, but if you’re interested, they are available at http://contest.apps4edmonton.ca/apps)

How many times have you wondered how it would feel to walk on (well, in) the clouds that whisk by while you’re in an airplane?

Brought to you by Japanese architecture + German Engineering:

The clouds are artificial, created through three layers of air: cool air at the bottom, hot humid air in the middle, and hot air on top.  The “clouds” are then trapped  in the middle, allowing people to see and experience them as such.  Here’s a video about it:

Cloudscapes via Wired UK via Gizmodo

A common piece of feedback I’m getting with Statistics Edmonton (besides for business/political campaigns and analytics) is that people want to use it to figure out the right place for them to stay.  With that in mind,  I thought I’d highlight an example of a specific, typical scenario: you want to start, or already have a family of 4-5 people, and would like to live where similar-sized families are living at.

You can browse around the actual statistic and map (image above) at http://bit.ly/axQGSq.  What you’re seeing is a relative ratio: the deepest greens have the highest percentage of households with 4-5 people within that particular neighbourhood compared to other neighbourhoods.  Try it out yourself, and you can see how that works.

The map you see above makes sense with city suburban sprawls, and agrees with the trend observed with the Suburbanization of Edmonton.  Save for the odd neighbourhood (Windsor Park, which is a wealthier neighbourhood by ~2x average neighbourhood income and is closer to the University of Alberta – see below)…

… it would seem that families typical locate themselves in higher concentrations outside of the Edmonton downtown core area.

One final thing – and admittedly, I feel like a broken record for saying this, but if you haven’t already done so, please vote for Statistics Edmonton for the Apps4Edmonton competition.  :) It’s much appreciated, and it’s really quite encouraging when people thank you for your work because they find it useful and interesting.  Thanks! :)

There’s been a number of discussions about Edmonton becoming a suburban sprawl, and it’s a pattern I noticed while working on Statistics Edmonton.  I’ll leave the argument of whether it’s a net positive aside and show you what I found – a pattern/trend based on demographics that I believe visualizes the suburban sprawl effect in Edmonton:

The Suburbanization of Edmonton (<- With Full Screen Option)

One caveat I will mention: there may be a variety of reasons for the patterns you see above, and it might not be definite, visual proof of suburbanization.  I can’t think of a good reason or example that would cause the patterns, but those reasons could quite likely exist.   I can think of ones explaining inconsistencies (like the high downtown density of 20-24 year olds, where apartment rentals are abundant and the University is close), though.

Feel free to share and link to this as a visual show for the sprawl, and if you haven’t yet, please vote for Statistics Edmonton for the Apps4Edmonton competition!

We’ve all seen brilliant commercials that make us laugh.  This commercial is one of my all-time favourites: in all it’s simplicity, it manages to bring out a much rarer, different emotion, and proves that the best commercials can sometimes be the simplest.

One of the things that I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on is for the use of Statistics Edmonton for political campaigns and business analytics.  I thought I’d drop a sample campaign to show people an example of how people can put in custom data to visualize interesting trends/statistics.

Analyzing a Sample Election Campaign (using Ward 8, where I'm in). We'll be
looking at insights drawn from census stats + example campaign data.


A few things to note:

1) If you want to try this yourself, this literally takes seconds to do.  Needs Excel, your data (samplePoliticsWard08.txt in this example), a web browser (Google Chrome recommended), and statsyeg.com.  Simple copy-n-paste operation.

2) If you’re putting in your own private campaign/business information, it’s safe.  Nothing’s saved, and everything happens locally on your computer.

3) If you like StatsYEG.com, please drop me a vote for the Apps4Edmonton Open Data Competition (helps determine winners), and a comment would be really appreciated!  It’s the only analytical political or business open data app, and your votes would be very encouraging for continuing this app forward.

4) I want to thank Don Iveson (Ward 10) for helping me figure out the neighbourhoods-to-Wards relationship through Mack Male’s ShareEdmonton.  A big shout out to Andrew Knack (Ward 1) who helped me with Ward 1 plus suggesting a number of interesting stats a campaign might be interested in.

5) The same StatsYEG.com infrastructure supports ridings, wards of different areas, combinations, cities, and countries.  If that’s something you’re interested in, please feel free to drop me an e-mail (e u g e n e _ a t _ ideaOwl.com) or Twitter (@ideaOwl), and please feel free to vote and comment as such too!

1) Number of Voters + Demographic Breakdown

One of the most basic things to learn about a district/riding/ward – the neighbourhoods and their population.  In this case, in Ward 8, Strathcona and Garneau have the highest populations: of the 27 neighbourhoods, about 25% of the voting public in this Ward come from these two neighbourhoods.

(The 18 and 19 year-old crowd?  That’s a limitation based on the census data available, which has breakdowns on a 5-year range (like 15-19, 20-24).   Unfortunate, but something that could be replaced with researched and estimated numbers from a political research campaign)

2) Voters to Volunteers Ratio

Need to see if there’s a good balance on how many volunteers you have for each neighbourhood?  Plug a ratio on Excel (simple voters-divided-by-volunteers column), and…

In this sample campaign – it looks like there’s 6,000+ potential voters…  To one volunteer.  Seems like something that needs rectifying. :)

Value from this is relatively straightforward.  A campaign would want to make sure there’s enough volunteers to cover each neighbourhood/district.

3) What are the Key Issues for Neighbourhood _____?

You can take a look and compare the issues found important/key for each neighbourhood, and compare their spread across different neighbourhoods.  For example:

It seems like the (sample) issue of “Community Involvement” is a hot topic overall in Strathcona.  I did this in terms of overall population, but it’s just as easy to make it a ratio (as in, 40% of the neighbourhood found this issue a key one).

The total at the bottom right indicates, then, that about 22% of the Ward feels that this is a key issue for them.  Campaign platforms could be built on this data.

Last) Specific Demographic Targeting

I wasn’t sure I would show this, but the unique datapoint I found is the sort of insight I wouldn’t have learned without looking at the demographics.  In particular…

The 65+ year crowd is unusually populous in Ottewell: 21.7% in the area (1,307) are 65 and over, compared with 4.4% in Garneau (403 people).

Summary

That’s a quick look on how a political campaign can create and use their own data to help their campaign.  As mentioned, this is something that could easily be replicated for different cities and countries, and a number of insights could also be drawn for businesses.  The sampleCustomData.txt on the site provides some examples of this.

If you have any suggestions or questions, please feel free to  e-mail (e u g e n e _ a t _ ideaOwl.com) or Twitter (@ideaOwl) me, and please vote and comment for StatsYEG.com if you like the concept and see potential in this!

A friend dropped me a mail about this over the long weekend, having talked about Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and his board game a few months back.  I’ve read the book a few years back, and it’s one of a few rare reads shared through my family.

The quick summary of the video: there have been a number of free classes on how to get rich, this time branded with the Rich Dad, Poor Dad branding.  CBC Marketplace brought in hidden cameras, and surmised through the $500 session that’s upsold through the free session that the sessions are mainly an upsell to the really expensive sessions.  There’s a part about one of the coaches pushing the attendees to get a $100,000 credit limit as well.  Click on the image below to watch the video:

I’ve got mixed feelings about this: the whole thing seems like an upsell business, but what we don’t see are the contents of the course, which could have provided more value than was implied.  That said, I can believe that the coach being videotaped was doing a lot of upselling, and it makes sense that a business could be set up to have sessions eek out just enough learning so that someone would be tempted to pay the high price for the next ones.

There’s also Robert Kiyosaki’s interview, from which it seemed possible that he feels like he’s gone with the wrong partner and the wrong firm to represent his image and brand through these sessions.  It’s a bit harder to feel sorry for him given his success: I’d hate to think of the guy who upped his credit limit to $100,000, paid $30,000 on courses, but then couldn’t execute.  Then again, what about the stories of people who have successfully made money from properties through the course?

Figured a helpful post is a good one as any to start a blog on.  Part-thank-you and feedback for the  #OpenData government (and non-government) advocates here in Edmonton, and I hope it’ll be useful discussion material for the other open data movements  around the world, particularly because I see Statistics Edmonton as an app that I’d like to push beyond the competition and on with other cities.

Quick Context:

It’s 2010, and the City of Edmonton launches the Apps4Edmonton competition to promote the development of municipal applications using the data-sets from the Edmonton Open Data Catalogue.  It’s a pretty smart move, resulting in over 30 application submissions, including one from me.  I won’t go into the details of my app (leaving it for the next post), but suffice it to say that I had to run through a number of the datasets for it.

What really worked well:

There’s actually quite a bit, here are some highlights.

Grassroots-Level Interaction and Participation

Local software developer Mack D. Male writes down ideas during a principals for open data brainstorming session at City Hall on Saturday November 21, 2009. The City of Edmonton hosted the workshop to explore how to make more of its data available online in accessible formats, for the benefit of all Edmontonians.(photo by Ryan Jackson, copied from Edmonton Journal)

Before it really began, it started with a conversation.  I recall the dialogue and interest in working with local citizens, developers, and interested parties early on last year, and the efforts of the City of Edmonton staff (Devin Serink, James Rugge-Price, Chris Moore, and more I’ve missed) helped build an early community of people who understood the vision of Open Data in Edmonton.  It also helped that the Edmonton Journal wrote about it as well!

Ideas

80+ ideas, a number of which helped form the basis of applications that ultimately got developed.  That it was open to anyone to suggest applications meant that applications could be built for the everyday citizen.

Getting the word out

A blog post here, event invites sent out through the local tech people (@camlinke), and plenty of twitter messages meant that local developers would know about the competition and learn more about how to participate in it.

Prizes

These provided an incentive to entice a number of developers, myself included, to participate.  The different categories helped me explore potential applications to build (or not build), and I suspect more varieties of apps have come through because of this.

Minor Suggestion:

If a competition does run again, it would be interesting to see an idea entry officially by the City. In this scenario, the City would already have a need that it needs to have filled, and a number of local companies – or upstart entrepreneurs – could look to fill it.

Suggestions to Help Developers Build Sustainable, Local and Globally Transferable Open Data Apps

This is a broader, more “meta” level of thought as these apply to the general open data movement (thus to all cities/governments), and I’m hoping that these get discussed at conferences and solutions are being sought.

1) A Consistent Catalogue of Catalogues, Datasets

Take a peek into the data catalogues of San Francisco, New York City, City of Nanaimo, City of Toronto, and many more, and the consistent thing you’ll find is inconsistencies in the information available and  the format in which they’re made available in (for instance, zipped/unzipped, KML/none).  Not only will  developers need to find and familiarize themselves with different sites, designs, and methods of getting the data, they’ll also have to to adapt to each open data project’s data formats and content.  Even for data that updates on a yearly basis, that’s a lot of manual processing when one considers the number of cities undertaking their own open data project.

2) Automatic Updates

It’s currently up to the developer to manually check the data catalogue to see if (a) the current information is the accurate and (b) there isn’t a new dataset that supercedes the current one in scope, purpose, or other category.  Anything from neighbourhoods to garbage zones to political boundaries can change on a yearly basis, and historical data, which is particularly useful to identify trends, isn’t easily available for an app to identify or consume readily.

A Solution to Both?

I can almost hear someone yell “Why not an API?”  From a developer’s point of view, assuming there are APIs for specific types of data, that sounds like a wonderful idea.

That said, I’m not sure that’s the answer – at least not at the municipal level.  There’s enough work for each municipality to do, and creating/maintaining APIs shouldn’t be a core function.  Worse, I can imagine multiple cities having their own APIs, which wouldn’t solve the issue of non-consistent methods of getting information.

I think the answer probably lies in standardization efforts by an organization that would be comprised of member cities participating in the open data movement.  I’m not sure if the Open Data Foundation is the de facto organization for this, but I imagine such an organization gaining good initial traction if it could manage to standardize just one dataset to start off with.  Devin notes that among the leaders of standardization, there is openplans.org, who also run openmuni.org and open311.org.

In Summary…

… we looked at a few things that worked out well so far, as well as a number of things that developers would need some support on in order to push the cumulative potential of these applications further.  I’d be happy to answer any questions or chat further about this, but in the meantime, thanks to the people who made the competition possible so far, and I hope this helps organizers of future open data projects see a bit of a developer’s perspective.  Until later!

Update:

Added more people working on the project in the city, standardization leader.  Thanks to @dserink.

Also, if you liked my app, please vote for it!

About ideaOwl

Tech Entrepreneur, MBTI INFJ, random idea generator in the evenings. Been in the military, developed financial risk rating software, and worked in Waterloo, Singapore, Boston.

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