Cowork at our house 1st and 3rd Thursday

Join us to get work done at our house in Chapel Hill on the First and Third Thursday of each month. 9am to 5pm. Free WiFi, Coffee, and Lunch! Come meet new folks and expand your business network. Contact me for directions.

Join the Google Group for the latest on Carrboro Coworking. Soon to be a coworking space in downtown Carrboro, NC. Learn more at CarrboroCoworking.com.

Also keep up with all the events in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area at SocialCarolina.org. We have a google map there and blog. Plus a Twitter user to follow to get updates on your phone. twitter.com/rdch. Thanks to Wayne for keeping up with all the local events!

If you read this today come on down!

Social Carolina: Tech Events Calendar

Wayne Sutton is on top of local tech events in our area. So a couple of us asked him to create something to keep track of these events. He set up a blog at socialcarolina.org and I created a google calendar. Plus we have the Twitter user RDCH to follow and stay up-to-date.

Know about a cool event that involves technology of some kind? Is it happening in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area? Then contact us with the blog form. We’ll put it up on the calendar and promote it. We already have a few cool events up there. Check it out.

One Lesson from Startup Weekend Chapel Hill

I had a good time at Startup Weekend Chapel Hill. It was exhausting but a worthwhile experience. Here’s one lesson that I learned.

Find Data then Write an Web Application For It

When we brainstorm ideas for creating web applications we think about what you can do to data. Like how to present it, manipulate it, rearrange it, etc.. That seems to be the logical way to go about it. We take for granted that there is data out there to use. But is there really? Where is it?

For example: messaging, IM and SMS, is experiencing a serious surge in popularity. Web sites like Twitter.com are gaining mass use and expectance. The mobile web is another big frontier being explored by web developers. When we think of new applications to build we base our decisions on what we’ve used and what is popular. This can be a good strategy because it positions your app in a highly visible place. (ex. Pownce got bought by Google after cloning Twitter.) Plus if one app is popular there must be a reason for it. So why not make something like it.

The problem with this approach is not the lack of originality its the direction with which we think about it. Lets think about the data first. What data will our website application use? Where will we get the data? How much data do we need? And most importantly HOW CAN WE CREATIVELY PRESENT THE DATA TO MAKE IT UNDERSTOOD AND USEFUL?

At the end of the Startup Weekend Chapel Hill we came to a realization that their wasn’t enough data. For people looking for a place to work you need data about those places. For someone who wants to advertise a place you need data about people who want it. I believe the core team who will take on WorkPerch.com will find the data and put it out there. Lack of data is why the site was released as a invitation beta. A wise move IMHO.

The spark that got me thinking about this was Jake’s comment that we should purchase some data to fill in the database to start with. I didn’t know there where companies that sold data like this. But it makes perfect since. Sadly I don’t think we can buy quality real estate and user data we need. That is up to the community who will use WorkPerch. They must provide this so it can be useful.

My suggestion to future Startup Weekends and web app developers in general is to brainstorm your app idea but then collect a bunch of data first. With so many people working on a project you could easily distribute the effort to find data. Thirty people could gather a ton in a few hours time.

Then the team could verify who owns the data. Is it in the public domain? Do we need to license it? How much will it cost? Next the data could be shared and merged. Once its in a common file format like xls or cvs the data could be put into a relational database. Then the structure of the web app could be determined. How will the user navigate this data (flow)? How will the web app logic parse this data and represent it? (graphs, print to screen) How will the web app users add to the data or manipulate it?

This way of looking at web apps isn’t new. But just having another angle to think and to apply I found really constructive. Thank you Startup Weekend Chapel Hill participants for creating an environment where we could learn so much.

Oh and one more thing. Chapel Hill Startup Weekend was in The Town of Carrboro. That is NOT Chapel Hill. No matter how you parse it. I don’t care that its a few feet away. You can not lump RTP and Carrboro together. You can not lump Chapel Hill and Carrboro together. You can not dismiss the creative vibe of this small Town. UNC may be next door but its Carrboro where cool companies like Blog Ads flock. So much more than semantics. Dig it! 😀

Civic engagement and technology: CMS

Yesterday I attended the Civic Engagement and Technology Workshop held by the Triangle Community Foundation at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. I really enjoyed the discussion led by Rob Stuart and all kinds of local nonprofits. I’m excited to see what different groups do with what they learned about network centric advocacy and the web.

I got a chance to speak in a session that was sorta like speed geeking. [Speed geeking is a participation process used to quickly view a number of presentations within a fixed period of time.]

I talked to people about Content Management Systems. I defined them this way. A Content Management System is a type of web based application that can simplify the creation of powerful websites used by large numbers of contributors.

My primary goal was to answer questions and give practical advice that could be used right away. I lumped several different kinds of dynamic web application types under the CMS umbrella. Such as Portals (CMS), Blogs, Wikis, E-learning, and Forums. Here are the specific examples we talked about:

Drupal – full featured CMS
WordPress – blog software that can do so much more
MediaWiki– the software that powers Wikipedia
Vanilla – Great easy to use forum software

I told folks about the differences between this software and their similarities. I work with clients to discover what is right for them no matter the platform but I personally recommend Open Source software when ever I can.

Here are the links I shared to help folks learn more about CMS.

cmsmatrix.org – compare cms
WordPress.com – Free wordpress blog hosting
opensourcecms.com – Demo all kinds of free CMS

One of my main messages was just to jump in feet first and do it! You can set up a blog in under five minutes. Experiment and test out web software like a blog. It’ll help you learn about how this kind of software works. Learning by doing is the best!

Jackson Fox at Refresh the Triangle

On October 25 at 6:30-8:00PM Jackson Fox is speaking at a new event series called Refresh the Triangle. I’m signed up via Upcoming.

Refresh 001: Building User-Centered Web Apps in a Crunch

Durham, NC—Thurs, Oct 25, 2007, 6:30-8:00PM
Jackson Fox is a User Experience Engineer at Lulu.com, and a graduate student in Information & Library Science at UNC Chapel Hill. He is responsible for the community and marketplace functionality on Lulu.com, and is currently learning why MySpace is definitely not a “platform.” He and his wife live in Durham.

Its in Durham at Viget Labs, The Brightleaf District, 908 West Main Street, Durham, NC 27701

via Wayne Sutton

Social Networks Amplify Serendipity

Ok… today I said something during a Converge South session that I want to remember, Social Networks Amplify Serendipity.

I love listening to creative people. The inspiration is extremely valuable. Thanks Converge South!

Context from Twitter:

waynesutton @BrianR I’m with you, online social networking has allowed me to meet more people with like interest than if I wasn’t online

arsepoetica @BrianR, amplifying serendipity. Nice! Phrase of the day. (And I agree. I’m not remotely social in meatspace.)

coreyr @BrianR u mean the internet +’s serendipity because info flow is higher than offline. (SocNets are just reifying people, further +’ing flow)

Update:Social Networks ONLINE Amplify Serendipity (thanks for helping me clarify Corey!)

Bora at A Blog Around The Clock:

The quote of the year, I think, goes to Brian Russell who, during a session on social networks (e.g., what are we “creepies” doing on Facebook pooping on the kids’ party), said that “Online Social Networks Amplify Serendipity”. What a great phrase, explaining exactly what social networks do.

Converge South 2007

Converge South 2007, Greensboro, NC
Going to try and do updates throughout the day. Not live blogging really. Just the bits that strike me as interesting.

9:00 AM – Just finished coffee and deserts after getting my name tag. Now we’re at the intro session where Sue Polinsky is welcoming us.

Keynote

Jason Calacanis with Ed Cone. Seems the basis for Mr. Calacnis new venture Mahalo is that there is too much info on the web. Thus we need “experts” who are “real humans” to help us search it. Sounds good to me. But to assume that “80 to 90%” of info on the web is junk is absurd. This over simplification just doesn’t take into the billions of separate opinions people have all over the world. Each of us has many different ideas about what is good info and what is bad info. Though its really important to fact check. There are facts in the world. But I would argue they aren’t as imperial as some would believe. Everything can be challenged. Even gravity.

Panel Discussions

Step by Step
Dan Conover, Will Bunch, Joe Killian (moderator)
Three smart journalists who get it. They are the future right now. Simulating commentary huh? What something better? Read what others are writing here and here.

We Agree to Disagree
Ruby Sinreich, Chris Rabb, Dan Conover (moderator)

Ruby starts off by asking how many people in the room are pro or student journalists. “Good now I don’t have to lecture you.” Snarky laughs in the room. I see her remarks as a form of tough love. Shes beautifully direct. But ya know I’m biased.

Short overview
Best part of CS2007 Friday was talking to people. Many opportunities to catch up with folks I haven’t seen since the last time I made it to this event. The sessions where pretty good. I learned a lot.

Chapel Hill Startup Weekend

Last night I met Gwen Bell. She told me about an event she’s organizing called Startup Weekend. She was part of the group that first pulled it off it Denver. Now its coming to Chapel Hill on November 2-4.

http://chapelhill.startupweekend.com

Startup Weekend is an idea, an experiment, a chance gather the tech community and create a company over one jam packed weekend.

We held a session about this at the last RDUBar Camp. It sounds like super geek fun!

Update: Here is some more info from Gwen Bell describing just what Startup Weekend is.
Continue reading “Chapel Hill Startup Weekend”

BarCamp 2007 was Great!

Getting to Red Hat by 8am on a Saturday (Aug. 4) for BarCamp RDU was hard but totally worth it. It was amazing how many geeks where there self organizing and learning stuff. Lunch was late but Fred moved the schedule around and made work. The WiFi was weird but it worked most of the time. These obstacles that would grind a traditional conference to a halt didn’t phase us. I attribute it to the fact that we were all organizers at this unconference. We came to this event willing and ready to work together.

Normal conferences put you in herd mentality mode (Mooooo!) with a strict schedule where you aren’t allowed to make your own event. Much less help fix it. So when something breaks, as it always seems to, people don’t step up. That’s the leaders job. (?) Plus I would suggest that free events attract people willing to participate. They come for the best reasons. Its no wonder this works.

On the flip side I heard a critique yesterday evening that BarCamp was too social and geeky. This person really didn’t want to spend their weekend working with computers even more. If doing that is your day job then why do it some more. I guess I do because I’m obsessed. (hehe) But I think more sessions that are not computer related would be good. Relaxing even. There was juggling and chess sessions tho. How about a how to surf the ocean session or how to prepare for a spelunking trip.

My favorite part was the Geeks 4 Good session. I proposed it and Ruby took off with it. I did eventually chime in a bit. I was AMAZED at how many geeks are interested in helping their neighbors. I knew geeks have big hearts but for some reason I expected less to attend. I am VERY happy that I was proven wrong.

We talked about tools to use for causes and organizations, strategies for helping others, etc. Ruby talked about how she has used Orange Politics for good and the importance of getting involved in local politics. We collected links that were shared and plan on putting them up on a page linked to from the BarCampRDU 2007 wiki. I learned about New Raleigh a local blog influenced by Orange Politics, too.

All in all a great weekend. The t-shirts rocked!

BarCampRDU 2007 is on the way

Last year Ruby and I missed BarCamp RDU. Man were we bummed. But we got married on the same day so we made due. 🙂 But this year it looks like we can make it. To top it off my business venture Carrboro Coworking is a sponsor. My goal is to tell more people about the Coworking concept and see what people think of it. Keep up with our progress by joining the Carrboro Coworking Google group.

So check out the BarCampRDU 2007 wiki and see if there is space left to attend. Suggest a session to discuss at the event. That’s what this style unconference is all about! Fred Stuzman is doing a great job organizing this. I can’t wait!