Thursday, December 4, 2008

Life In Leavenworth

No, I'm not talking about the federal penitentiary in the heartland of the US. I'm talking about a town that, in 1968, on the cusp of an implosion of the local timber industry, decided to take a different tack and focus on tourism and the creation of a unique destination.

And so we are here again. All told, I think this is my 5th trip to this sleepy town that hosts 17 major festivals a year and whose building code is pure Bavarian, literally. You can not tell from the Starbucks from the local pizza parlor from the McDonalds. Their brand trumps everyone else's and that is in writing.

So imagine my response as I open their brochure to look at their maps and what I see is something that is not unique, not distinguishable from any other destination and just not consistent with the level of thought and effort that they have seemingly put into every other aspect of this town.

Furthermore, take a look at their web site at and they are a classic example of being a destination but not showing their customers where they are until they go to the "how to get here" page. Geographic context is again completely under-utilized and under-appreciated.

I am hopeful that someday they will get it as they (the people of Leavenworth) deserve it. And I think that SideStreet may play some part for, as I was reminded again today driving through the old downtown of Monroe, yesterday's Main Street is today's Side Street.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oh my gosh, it's like being immersed in the brochure online!

So this past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in my first non-conference, the WhereCamp PDX event held at Souk (Old Town Chinatown).

It's one of those completely collaborative events (again, never been to one before) where the first hour is spent putting giant post-ups on the wall to brainstorm on topics, ideas and anything else that might be of interest to the group. You can actually visit the schedule (and a map of Souk) here:

During the posting of ideas I volunteered one of my own (note that I am in a crowd of developers, coders, software engineers and that I was not overly comfortable nor confident in whether or not I had anything to add to this conversation). My Map, My Brand.

Simple, straightforward, but meant to not talk about me and SideStreet, but more about what is happening outside of Google Maps or whether or not everyone is relegated to Google Maps becoming the map brand... (all you graphic designers out there may as well start a new life).

So the conversation started off all over the board: discussing whether Google was a brand-neutral service or whether or not it over-shadowed the brand; why anyone would want to push branded content to the web; the cost-benefit analysis of any custom solution (including Google or Flash); the perceived need to require Geo-spatial accuracy and so on. Very educational to see what a simple topic could deliver!

But the point here came when a certain participant (let's call him Seeq) espoused his dependancy on Google Maps and Google Earth and that, at the end of the day, you needed to plug in a KML file to Google Earth to get data through that medium. (I was on a very steep learning curve here). When specifically asked about "branded content," Seeq commented that it held no value to him and that he was more focused on accuracy, immediate access to neighboring towns, destinations, etc.

At that point, another participant asked me to bring up an interactive map NOT of the Google kind:

Seeq looked at the screen and without hesitating exlaimed: "Oh man, I love this, it's like being immersed in the brochure!"

The silence that settled while we all reflected on Seeq's response was exquisite (for me). His emotions just overrode his functional processes in a millisecond in the recognition that he was going to experience something different (i.e. not Google Maps). Check it out and see the power of branded content and the influence on even the most adamant technologist.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The PDF Paradigm


Those 3 letters have made Adobe a heck of a lot of money. The ability to lock down and present a downloadable, readable flat-file to anyone is pretty sweet. No one else came up with it. Microsoft didn't, Apple didn't, a host of other multi-billion dollar companies didn't. Adobe just focused on something it was good at and created a new need for the industry. Really, for all industries. As ubiquitous as the Adobe Reader is, I don't think there is a single company in existence, large or small, that doesn't make use of the PDF format.

So what is it about that PDF Paradigm that I find so intriguing? I believe that the accessibility of a PDF document implies interactivity. Albeit the level of interactivity is simply downloading to your hard drive (or within your browser). And this is really no fault of anyone's, it's just a general urban myth that has arisen and continues to propagate itself as there is really no challenge to this "interactive" perception.

But what is the truth? In a world where keeping people at or on your web site is the ultimate goal (think "sticky"), the PDF paradigm runs counter to that goal. When you click on a PDF link you are taken away from the framework of the web site. You are taken away from the dynamic capabilities that the HTML/Javascript/CSS/Flash world enables and are rendered a flat, static world that you can either save on your hard drive or print.

Where the PDF is an alternative, a more permanent legacy to an interactive component, feature or set of wisdom within a site, that is a perfect use. But recognize that it should be used as a redundant feature, not as a primary resource.

Take an accounting of your web site. I think travel and tourism web sites are some of the primary culprits here. Look at all the documents you have (what I would really ask you to focus on is all the maps you have converted to PDF) and think about what the PDF is doing and if that fits the intent. If your PDF is a map, I would say look at SideStreet, or a Flash implementation or, if you don't care about losing any branding, even a Google or Yahoo map. The key is to keep people on your site.

Are you?

No Pain No Gain

Normally I completely believe in that saying. And in the entrepreneurial world, I would say that there is a lot of pain, and therefore a lot of gain.
However, when training for an event that is far beyond what one week of solid training can really prepare you for, a sense of pragmatism descends and casts an almost comical "how the heck did I get here?" light on the situation.
And so, in my endeavour to train to the greatest extent possible, I believe I am, but I added a day off (or two) to ensure that I didn't actually have a complete physical breakdown before the race. iTunes can only carry your momentum so far and after that, the proverbial wall hits hard and fast. I felt the wall coming, and so the gift of age (wisdom) allowed me to sidestep the wall and enjoy some beers, some burgers and some bull$*!^ at Bridgeport Brewery.
Speaking of no pain no gain, SideStreet welcomed a new team member tonight. Say hello to Tony. I think his nickname will be Frodo (this is based on his last name... makes you wonder). He had to drive up from Corvallis, which, after many jaunts up and down I-5 to Salem and back, I can understand that pain.
The team (Jason and Brian) liked what they saw and it will be interesting to see what Tony can do with our web-based interface (which is a lot farther behind than we would like it to be).
I will make my last training run tomorrow. I'm thinking a 5-6 miler through Forest Park. Thursday is a rest day as Friday is race day. I think this will be Hood to Coast #15. Geez I'm old... Geez I'm sore... I'm going to have a little cheeze with this wine.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Now this is the life of the Oregon entrepreneur

So in the course of sales, research, reviewing the work of a potential
new partner I get a missed phone call from my soccer buddy Cliff...
Then an email... Then a text... Then another phone call (which I
strategically avoid until ready to deal with this urgent matter).

So I call:
Sean: hey cliffie it's goose what's up?
Cliff: want to run hood to coast?
Sean: (stunned silence)
Cliff: (patient silence)
Sean: I guess I have a few weeks to train
Cliff: it's next week
Sean: (stunned silence)
Cliff: we're running leg 5
Sean: isn't that the toughest leg?
Cliff: 2nd toughest
Sean: I'll start training tonight... Crap

So as the photo will attest this begins my cramming for hood to coast.
If you don't know HTC then you are not an Oregonian...

Thus the distractions that are uniquely Oregon. I now must fold daily
training into my regimen of trying to build a business.

Day 1 is done. Mission accomplished as the Toadies reverberate in my
ears and I suck wind with the Dunniway track all to myself.

Stay tuned for more...

Friday, July 25, 2008

maps of beer?

so today i'm hanging out at the Oregon Brewer's Festival and I am chatting with the founder talking about maps.
really, is this a good use of either of our time? not sure, but how often do you get to just sit back and watch the action?
But yes, I think that people are not necessarily looking for maps, but if they were available, they would be used... a lot, pretty sure about that. More when I get back to the computer (I'm mobile).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Understanding Your Own Limitations - Compete or Collaborate with 3rd Party Services?

Today I had an interesting exchange with the interactive manager of a large tourism bureau about maps. It was interesting in that they were releasing a new service called GoSeePortland and they wanted to know how they could work that service in collaboration with the SideStreet service.

The GSP service uses Google Mapping technology to, first of all, instantly access a huge standard database (but the last 3 recommendations I've made were new additions to that database. Interesting...). Using this technology, users can create on the fly tours that are instantly mapped out. Pretty cool stuff, and I will be the first to admit it.

However, that is not what SideStreet was designed for. SideStreet's basic assumption is that an organization has a custom map that, short of investing a lot into Flash development, they would like as an interactive part of their web site. By interactive I don't mean a "download" and I don't mean "indexed" (clicking on the map scrolls down to a specific section of the web site). By interactive I mean a dynamic information portal that enables me to discover and to explore and to find more than what I was originally looking for.

This is my first time in Portland so, please, someone, just tell me what the Top 10 can't miss attractions, to-dos, restaurants, etc. are in this fabulous town. I want the experts to guide me and then (this is important), then I want third-party validation from my peers (i.e. GSP).

But I digressed. The basic point was that SideStreet will take the custom map and turn it into the interactive "widget" that webmasters everywhere are looking for. Numbers are coming in from the first round of implementations and I may have to start using the word "uber-sticky" when talking about SideStreet's enabling technology.

And how is this relevant to GSP? We can actually build that content directly into the custom map. Top 10 things to do in Portland? All of which were validated by the tips and opinions of the GSP audience. I feel pretty good about what I'm going to do now (FYI, the Top 10 list involves a number of brewpubs).

This is where it can be really easy to try and take on the Big Kahuna, but, you know what? It ain't worth it. GSP can use Google Maps for all its worth, and you know what, to an extent it just makes sense. But that doesn't mean you can't integrate the content and have a series of social maps interlaced with maps of what the experts recommend. Heck, isn't that what they are being paid to do anyhow?

late night start up

just finished a demo of pacific nw map produced for Japanese trade show last year. this map was a collaboration between Oregon, Washington, Seattle and Portland and is a perfect example of how a custom map can be quickly forgotten if not kept in the mainstream (web).
will be interesting to see what my old colleagues think about this.
oh well, bed time for this bonzo.

Multimedia message