New challenge – Web Reviews

I’ve got a new moonlighting gig, to go along with my own projects. I’m writing web reviews for Digital Trends. I didn’t really see this one coming but the opportunity seemed like an excellent one, so I’m giving it my best shot.

Digital Trends is one of the best web business stories in the Portland area. Founded just a few years ago, it has bootstrapped its way to a thriving online business focusing on consumer electronics reviews and news. Through the power networking group known as “mom’s groups,” I met Ian, the CEO, and after a few discussions about the latest TechCrunch reviews, I asked, “hey, why don’t you guys do web reviews, seems like a great fit for the current audience.” Next thing you know, I’m the one writing them.

My goals with these reviews are different than with a typical “Web 2.0 blog.” I don’t care about the latest breaking news, funding, the latest gossip, the business model, who the founders are, or anything like that. I’m only concerned with the site itself, and that’s what I focus on. How useful it is to the web audience. The site must at least be a public beta too, no private, invitation only ones. It needs to be ready for anybody to use it. The hardest part is picking, with so many sites to choose from. I make my picks on mainly a gut feel when I see the site, that “this is interesting.”

You may have also heard me rail against the Web 2.0 blogs posting so often, making it too difficult to keep up, and so my goal is to write 1 and maybe 2 a week. My inspiration comes more from the Solution Watch approach. The audience at Digital Trends is much more diverse though, so it’s fun to distill the great stuff we early adopters come across to a wider group of people.

The first batch went live a couple weeks ago. Take a look. I’d love to hear what you think, good and bad.

I welcome any submissions. My email is over there in the right-hand column. I can’t promise a response, but I will promise at least a look at your site.

Portland Web 2.0 update

Web 2.0 activity in Portland is still a big interest area for me and a number of Portland sites popped up this week. Seems things are really getting going around here.


TwitterWhere is a cool new project from local Portland developer Matt King. Similar to how Local Signal tracks an assortment of feeds for a specific city to filter and discover news, events, and people, TwitterWhere tracks Twitter activity for a given location, making it easy find local breaking news and other Tweeters. (Silicon Florist and Read/Write Web coverage)


ChoiceA is a new national real estate FSBO site (Silicon Florist and Read/Write Web have more).


Platial made a pretty bold move it seems in acquiring one of their direct competitors in the social mapping space who had been doing better, traffic ranking wise. Should be interesting to see what happens with the combined companies.

LocalSignal preview release

Thanks for all that voted in my “name this app” poll. won by an 8 to 6 margin over I’m going to trust the voters on this one and go with it. It’s also time to announce the preview, since Silicon Florist and Metroblogging Portland have already covered it. Yes, I know it’s aesthetically challenged (though it’s much better than the first preview thanks to Matt at CouldBe Studios who hacked up my css), but I would love to hear feedback on the idea, content, and if you feel so inspired, design ideas.

Jump right into the Portland news to take a look.

LocalSignal is built for 3 types of uses:

  1. Quickly get the latest news, event info, and social media content from around the web for your city
  2. See what’s happening in a city you’re traveling or moving to
  3. See who’s online around you in your city

As is my custom, I usually give a back story when launching an app (here’s Web 2.0 Innovation Map and NetworthIQ). Basically, I was subscribing to a whole bunch of Portland feeds, and it was beginning to clutter up my reader. Feed readers are great, but the more feeds you follow the more difficult it is to keep up and need arises to find faster ways to filter. Also, when I took a trip last year to San Diego, I had been looking for something like this to get an idea of what was going on down there, maybe if there were any Web 2.0 type companies or events to check out. I also like to know what’s happening in Seattle to get a feel for overall Northwest happenings, but I certainly didn’t want to subscribe to those feeds, and didn’t want to build a new page in PageFlakes/Netvibes for any city I all of a sudden cared about. Finally, I’ve met a number of great people locally here in Portland as a result of my online activities, and would like to continue that tradition by finding the local people using various social platforms.

Putting those ideas together with my increasing use of Original Signal for news scanning, and the city-based single page aggregator now known as LocalSignal was born. Originally I was just trying to filter out universal social media platforms for local content (topix, newsvine,, technorati, MetaFilter, Ball Hype, Upcoming). If a site had feeds and some way to filter content by tag or location, I tried to utilize it. Unfortunately, I think the vision falls short by only relying on that method. Some feeds were too stale for that fine grained of content, and some too busy to find anything useful. For that reason, I’m starting to add more locally produced content.

If you’re wondering what the heck I’m doing building another app right now, as if I have the time. Well, I wonder myself sometimes. Focus was never my strong-point. But, I like to tinker and the feed plumbing was built back in February as I was brushing up on my PHP. Todd and I discussed some organization and design ideas in Aprilish, but I still let it simmer. Some recent events have given me the motivation to bring it down from the attic and get it out the door.
There’s still a number of things to do: UI improvements, showing new items since last visit, showing popular items (determined by clicks), and of course content content content (adding, removing, ordering) for the 53 cities currently being tracked.

Here’s some additional resources about news filtering methods:

Mint finally launches

Mint finally launched yesterday at the TechCrunch40 conference. Congratulations Mint! I had been referring to Mint as the great vaporware of personal finance apps. They first started promoting it back in March, and was beginning to think it would never launch. 6 months later they have a public beta out (I believe they actually started working on it on December ’05). Good to see there is something there after all, so I guess I have to stop calling it vaporware. Their blog has been great, even inspiring one of NetworthIQ’s new features, but hopefully for $5 million in VC money, we can get something better than a blog.

I should be happier for them, more exposure for the personal finance space and all. But, I’m feeling a little down today. As is the case with Wesabe, Expensr and Geezeo, I don’t view them as a competitor. They are more traditional Personal finance managers, focusing on expense tracking and bank account aggregation. NetworthIQ looks beyond bank accounts into your whole financial picture at a simpler/higher level while adding a social support network and way for you to chronicle your financial decisions. It’s really more of a complement to any of these apps. Unfortunately though, even if we’re not competitors, NetworthIQ will be viewed in the same general realm and thus be buried further in the noise and battle for new users. This also hit home reading this month’s Money magazine article about social personal finance that ignored NetworthIQ (Jean Chatzky, what’s a guy gotta do to get on your radar?). We were the first doing anything personal finance related in Web 2.0/social software. Now, there are lots out there. One thing’s for sure, I’m going to have to pick up my game a lot more.

As a personal finance software user myself, I’m not impressed with Mint. It’s web-based and very pretty, but I’ve been using MS money for 8 years and there’s nothing in Mint that will make me switch. I’m a BIG proponent of web-based software, and Money is probably the only reason I keep Windows around (ok, I guess I need it for .NET development too, but it’s the only software app that I use on Windows). It would be great to have a web app for this, but I’m not ready to give a new web service my usernames/passwords (I gave one to test it out), and it only tracks bank and credit card accounts. It can’t track mortgages, brokerage accounts, etc, so it’s not really a “track all your accounts in one place” app. I’d still have to use Money. The weekly email summary was a neat thing I admit, but I think there’s a lot more power in a client PFM in analyzing and reporting on spending. In the end, Mint feels more like an affiliate marketing scheme than a PFM.

To win the “best presenter” award at TC40, I honestly think that’s ridiculous, but really says more to me about the conference than Mint. For two reasons. 1) If this is the best app out of the 40, I can promptly ignore the other 39. 2) This has to be one of the best funded companies there, and I don’t think companies with VC funding should be in the running for conference grants. Those should be reserved for companies still battling in the funding game.


Portland company LUNARR, cut through the TechCrunch40 noise nicely this morning with their release. Silicon Florist has a good roundup.

This is interesting to me, one because I love trying collaboration tools and two, because I noted LUNARR way back last february and for the longest time, I was getting a good chunk of my paltry traffic from google searches for Toru Takasuka, the CEO. I’ve now been relegated to page 3 of the google results.

So, now that LUNARR is out, let’s look at the description from back then:

“He says he will develop a Web-based product that will allow business people to handle their computer needs, boosting productivity through collaboration. Information will be accessible via anything from a personal computer to a cell phone to a television.”

The collaboration part is definitely there, and I see some interesting things there. The whole “turn the page over” idea is kind of cool, and importing web sites to comment on was a nice touch. We’ll see how the cell phone and television part plays out.

If you want an invite, let me know.

TechCrunch Database and Startup Search

I haven’t seen any formal announcement, perhaps because it’s still being built out, but there is a new feature at TechCrunch called the “TechCrunch Database.” It appears to be a comprehensive listing of startup companies with information on their products, people, funding with additional content pulled in about the company from TechCrunch posts, TechMeme, Technorati (I’m sensing a tech trend here…),, and the company’s blog. If you go to you are re-directed to the main site, but if you want information on a particular company you can go to or to get an idea.

This is a very cool feature that gives a nice, quick snapshot of a company. It looks like it was released in posts beginning last Wednesday. What’s especially interesting is that on the same day, Niall Kennedy’s Startup Search was released and it’s almost exactly the same thing as the TechCrunch database. Startup Search has better linkage among people and investors in addition to tracking traffic indicators, but the company profiles are nearly identical.

I wonder if Mike and Niall will work together to built a more complete database faster. Both appear to have pretty limited listings (only 47 companies on startup search and I could only find a handful on TC DB, in contrast I had over 300 on the web 2.0 map last year and that number has at least doubled by now). And hey guys, bring back an updated version of the Web 2.0 Innovation map, I still think that’s a cool way to visualize startup activity.

TeamSnap – the northwest is on fire today

TeamSnap, a product of Portland-based SparkPlug is the second northwest site on TechCrunch today and is enjoying a much smoother launch than TalentSpring’s. I saw TeamSnap on Mike Davidson’s blog the other day and it definitely is a good-looking site, but didn’t realize they were local. Congrats on the launch SparkPlug!

I used to play a lot of sports and do a little coaching before I got bit by the side-project entrepreneur bug, but not enough to warrant the use of TeamSnap. I don’t think it will help my golf game much either. If I start playing or coaching sports again (which I definitely want to do), I’ll have to remember to give this a shot.

How to blow your launch

I’m not sure if TechCrunch jumped the gun, but boy is TalentSpring awful. I noticed that TalentSpring is a northwest company (Seattle), which made me want to check it out, as I don’t bother with most of the stuff that comes through TechCrunch these days. Though I can’t speak much for the business and/or idea itself, as I’m not totally sure what the point of it all is yet. It seems slightly interesting, but the TalentSpring site itself is so unusable right now, I have no motivation to explore.


First off are the 500(!) requests to urchin.js, locking up my browser. Once that is fully swallowed, you are presented with a half-empty UI. I guess there are no “Amateur Programmers” in the system? I play with the job category thingamabob and still can’t get any results. Next I try these filter widgets, and boy are they slow (this is client-side slowness, having nothing to do with the load on the site). Oh, I see that I’m “Already Logged in,” well no actually I haven’t logged in. Finally I entered some stuff to the “Get Ranked” form (I put some skills, not sure exactly what they mean by accomplishments, seems kind of vague) and hit go, and after about 30 seconds my browser finally came back to life with absolutely nothing changed on the screen. After that, I’m outta here. I can’t wait until uncov gets on this one.

User Experience is hard, I can relate with my own struggle to to create positive experiences that really get the message I’m trying to spread, across. But, simplicity can go a long way to helping that, and I would give that advice to the TalentSpring team. I think the problem is that the home page is trying to do too much with multiple kinds of filters in the browse area, the results area itself, and the “get ranked” form. But, while trying to do too much, nothing gets accomplished here, I never saw any results. Perhaps getting rid of the “Get Ranked” form and prefilling the latest resumes into the results (then the filters can be used) would be a good start. Just some thoughts.

WebVisions Day 2 review

You want irony? On the day I drive 90 minutes to the convention center and nearly 2 hours to get home, I do a brief interview with an Oregonian reporter about my 25 minute daily work commute. Doesn’t seem so bad now :-). Let’s recap day 2:

Let Go! 8 Steps to Succeeding in a Post-2.0 World

Lane Becker and Thor Muller, Satisfaction (slides)
I didn’t write down the 8 specific things, perhaps they’ll show up here, but this talk wasn’t really about presenting the 8 things, it was more a conversation about their message, “Be Like the Internet.” What does this mean? It means giving up control, opening up more, looking outside for solutions, embracing chaos, being more agile. Again, look to the wiki they setup, hopefully they’ll build it out a bit.


Social Media Strategies for your Organization? Connecting the Dots

Jeremiah Owyang (presentation) (slides)
Jeremiah discussed ways to present and implement social media strategies in organizations. The slides should sum it up well or watch the presentation. I need to try some of this stuff with my company. The Air Traffic Controller idea is a good start, though hardly anything is ever said about my company in the blogosphere (perhaps that’s as good a reason to start doing this).


Web Visions: Presentation Page Hierarchy

web application hierarchy, after lunch


Apparently neither Jacob nor Cliff have experienced a Burgerville milkshake, unbelievable. Fortunately we survived the throng of pre-teens and made it back to the conference.

Web Application Page Hierarchy

Luke Wroblewski (slides)
Luke W. is my new design hero, I just hope to never have to pronouce his last name. Not only does he work for Yahoo!, but has his own design business, writes books/articles, and is a prodigous speaker (not always covering the same topic). His slides on Best Practices for Web Form Design are the most useful, actionable advice I have ever seen in a presentation (i.e. you can put the stuff to use immediatley). I didn’t even see that presentation, just read the slides.

So, the talk was great with some sound and straightforward advice on how to focus your pages on the things that matter. Good point about the importance of a good presentation layer, it’s not just making it pretty.


English: Web 2.0’s Universal Language

Kevin Smokler
I left the content square-table discussion for reasons similar to Adam’s and ended up in this one. It was ok. Kevin’s a smart, energetic guy, but the topic wasn’t the most exciting to me, or maybe I was just ready to go home. The discussion was on being clear in our language and making product descriptions easier to understand (passing the mother-in-law test). RSS was a common topic; it’s so great, but a lot of people still don’t really get what it is after all these years.


I had to jet and missed the Friday keynote, sounds like it was pretty funny. Instead I spent the next two hours in the parking lot know as I-5.

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