What’s happening in the Edmonton blogosphere?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a one-stop-shop for Edmonton blogs? Where you could see a list of all the blogs and maybe even see all of the latest posts too?

It was a little over five years ago that I posted about this notion of a directory of Edmonton blogs. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

“I have started tagging blogs at del.icio.us with the tag edmontonblogs. This is really more of an “in the meantime” kind of activity, because as Pete points out, an actual directory website would be much more useful. Maybe I’ll build it one of these days.”

I finally built it.

A couple weeks ago I launched the latest release of ShareEdmonton. With the new version you can browse local blogs, see an always-updated collection of new blog posts, and you can search more than 10,000 posts written by local bloggers.

While my tagging of local blogs at delicious didn’t last long, my desire for a directory of Edmonton blogs never diminished. Over the years I collected local blogs and subscribed to them in Google Reader. That worked fairly well for me, but it didn’t help anyone else. A couple of years ago the idea of a directory came up again, and Reg, myself, and few others started looking at the problem. That project eventually fizzled, but I think it helped the Edmonton Journal launch its community blogs page, an idea championed by Karen Unland. While that page was a step in the right direction, it included a very limited number of blogs and was often broken (the latest update seems to have fixed the issues with broken or incorrect links).

There was a lot of false starts along the way, and far more challenges to overcome than I would have anticipated, but I’m very happy with the new release of ShareEdmonton. Is it a perfect, 100% complete, one-stop-shop for Edmonton blogs? Of course not. But it will help you keep up-to-date with a large number of Edmonton bloggers, and with your help it’ll get even better over time.

User Stories

For the initial release I wanted to make it easy to see the latest blog posts, and to browse recently updated blogs. Most blogs are updated relatively infrequently, and I didn’t want you to have to sift through those just to see what’s new. That’s a big part of the reason why there’s an emphasis placed on how recent something is in the UI.

Here are some of the scenarios this release addresses, expressed in the form of user stories:

  • As a user, I want a “home page” for all the blog-related functionality, so that I can remember a single URL (shareedmonton.ca/blogs).
  • As a user, I want to see the most recently updated blogs, with a title and photo (if one exists) for each blog.
  • As a user, I want to see the most recently updated blogs by tag or category (such as food).
  • As a user, I want to see the most recent blog posts, with a title, description, and photo (if one exists) for each post.
  • As a user, I want to see the most recent blog posts for a specific blog (such as mine).
  • As a user, I want to see the most recent blog posts for a specific blog tag or category (such as food). This is any post from a blog that has been categorized as a “food” blog. So if Sharon wrote a post about politics, it would show up here.
  • As a user, I want to see the most recent blog posts for a specific tag or category (such as food). This is any post tagged by the blogger as a “food” post. So if I wrote a post about food and tagged it appropriately, it would show up here.
  • As a user, I want to search all blog posts (for a query such as food).
  • As a user, I want to see all blog posts by day for the last week, with a headline and source for each.
  • As a user, I want to add a new blog to ShareEdmonton.

I come up with new user stories all the time, and I welcome any feedback and/or suggestions that you might have!

Aggregation & Curation

I followed that post back in 2007 with a list of blog posts talking about Edmonton. My aggregation & curation was fairly ad hoc back then, but now I write my Edmonton Notes every Sunday and Media Monday Edmonton every Monday. I try to include blog posts in those, but it definitely takes effort to keep on top of what everyone has written. I keep track of things I find during the week, and I do a quick scan at the end of week to find what I missed. Others post similar entries: Sharon does Food Notes, Karen does her Edmonton New Media Roundup, The Unknown Studio does the Edmonton Blog Watch, etc. These are all really useful and people love them, but they do take work.

There’s a big difference between aggregation (gathering and perhaps indexing) and curation (sorting, categorizing, analyzing, presenting). When the bloggers I mentioned above write their list posts, they’re doing both activities. My hope is that with ShareEdmonton’s new blog functionality they can focus more on the curation part, which is where they really add value. I think “show me all the latest posts from Edmonton bloggers” is a task for software, and “tell me which are important and why” is primarily a task for people. But you need the former before you can do the latter.

(I said “primarily a task for people” above because increasingly we’ll see software doing curation too! I plan to add different ways to browse blog posts to ShareEdmonton, and one example might be a list of the most commented on posts of the week. That’s an algorithmic way of sorting and presenting, which is curation.)

Statistics

You know me, I love statistics. I couldn’t do this post without at least one graph! So here you go, blogs by platform currently indexed at ShareEdmonton:

Blogs by Platform

As expected, most blogs are based on WordPress. It’ll be interesting to see if this changes over time!

Add Your Blog!

There are nearly 150 blogs currently being aggregated and indexed at ShareEdmonton, but I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll continue adding blogs myself, but you can help by submitting your own blog or someone else’s here.

ShareEdmonton updated with support for blogs & news releases

shareedmontonToday I am very excited to share with you the latest release of ShareEdmonton, my ongoing effort to build a platform for finding, filtering, and sharing Edmonton-related content and information. When I launched the site back in 2009, I said: “I want to redefine local media and improve Edmonton by embracing the fact that communication is increasingly taking place online.” While I still haven’t achieved my complete vision for ShareEdmonton, today’s release is another big step in the right direction.

The first thing you’ll notice if you have been using ShareEdmonton for any length of time is the new design. I decided to embrace Twitter Bootstrap as the foundation for the website’s layout and styling, a decision I am extremely happy about. With Bootstrap, the site is responsive and mobile-friendly, lightweight, and standards-compliant. It should look great on an HD screen, a mobile phone, and everything in-between. Another UI-related change is that Google Maps has been replaced with Leaflet and Open Street Maps.

The majority of the work in this release was done behind-the-scenes. For instance, I completely revamped the the way ShareEdmonton imports data so that it is more automatic and much more reliable. Another big change is the underlying infrastructure – ShareEdmonton now runs completely on Windows Azure. This is the kind of thing that is transparent to the end user but means that I can spend far less time worrying about servers and much more time adding new features!

Speaking of new features, there are a bunch in the latest release:

  • Blogs! You can now use ShareEdmonton to keep up-to-date with local bloggers. More than 100 blogs and 10,000 posts have been indexed so far. I have focused on blogs that update fairly regularly, but I know there are many, many more that should be included. You can add blogs here. There are two primary views for blog posts: the visual view and the headline view (which shows posts from the last week).
  • News Releases! Similar to blogs, ShareEdmonton is now indexing news releases. There’s a lot of room to improve, but so far about 20 sources and a few thousand releases have been indexed, including every City of Edmonton news release since January 2009.
  • Event pages have been updated with the new visual view, similar to blogs and news releases. I think it’s a much more enjoyable way to browse what’s coming up. Also, you can now add your own calendars for ShareEdmonton to import automatically.
  • The weather page now supports watches and warnings. If Environment Canada has issued a watch or warning, you’ll see it across the top of the weather page, but you’ll also now see a notification icon on the toolbar across the top of the site, no matter what page you’re on.

There are also dozens and dozens of bug fixes, data updates, and other small improvements.

I’ll be writing more about some of these new features over the next week, but for now, take a look and let me know what you think!

Live Music in Edmonton now at ShareEdmonton with YEG Live

It’s difficult but not impossible to discover all of the events that happen in Edmonton, and I’m continually working to improve the listings at ShareEdmonton. One of the ways I’m doing that is by working with others who already have large, accurate collections of events. The latest such example is YEG Live, Edmonton’s source for local live music, artist, venue, and event listings. You can now see all YEG Live events at ShareEdmonton!

I can’t remember how I was introduced to YEG Live – it might have been via Twitter, or it may have been because they use one of my photos for their header background. In any case, I was impressed. Founders Chris Martyniuk and Cameron Gertz have created an excellent online hub for local music in Edmonton. Most importantly, they really care about the accuracy of the data on the site. As a result, YEG Live has a superb collection of artist profiles, venue profiles, and of course, live music events. I contacted Chris to see if he’d be interested in working together, and fortunately, he was!

Now when you browse entertainment events at ShareEdmonton, you’ll see the ones that come from YEG Live highlighted with the icon to the left. When you click through to an event, such as tomorrow evening’s show featuring Sweet Thing at Haven Social Club, you’ll see all of the usual details you’d expect at a ShareEdmonton event page (start & end time, location details, related tweets, etc) as well as links and short bios for the artists performing (which link to YEG Live). There are also prominent links to the YEG Live event and ticket information pages.

Thanks to Chris for all the work he did to make this integration possible! There’s no sense in duplicating the tremendous effort he’s already putting into creating an accurate calendar of live music events in Edmonton, so I’m glad we were able to work together. It’s a win-win-win as I see it: ShareEdmonton is a little more complete, YEG Live gets a little more exposure, and Edmontonians are more likely to discover great live music events happening in the city!

Update on ShareEdmonton

I’m still working on improving ShareEdmonton, slowly but surely, and I wanted to provide a brief update on my progress. Over the last couple of weeks, my primary focus has been on improving the event calendar. Making it faster, more complete, and easier to browse. There’s still a lot of work to do, but here are some of the recent improvements:

  • There’s now a Featured Upcoming Events page where I can highlight specific events.
  • Related events have been improved. For example, if you look at the page for this Saturday’s Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market, you’ll see other upcoming dates as well.
  • That feature highlights something else – events on ShareEdmonton are as granular as possible. Instead of just having one event for The Citadel’s upcoming run of Sweeney Todd that starts on February 6 and ends on February 28, each individual show time gets its own page. That’s important in helping to answer the question, what’s happening in Edmonton at a given time and place? There are only a few exceptions to this, such as International Week.

I’m going to continue to make it easier to find and browse events, especially by tag, like valentine’s day or family day. I have made good progress on making the calendar more complete too. Currently, there are more than 200 unique events in ShareEdmonton for February, with more than 600 different instances (a unique event would be “Sweeny Todd”, and each showtime would be a different instance). There are probably hundreds more that I don’t yet have in the calendar. It’s a tricky problem, but I’m working on it!

Another thing I’ve been working on is improving Places in ShareEdmonton, which includes adding more places! Most recently, I started adding places that have been made available as part of the City’s open data catalogue, such as Police Stations. That’s a handy page to see all the police station locations in Edmonton. I’ve got some more neat stuff coming with this, so stay tuned.

If you have feedback, let me know!

Podcast Spot: What would I have done differently?

podcast spot Last night I presented in the VenturePrize Seminar Series with James Matsuba of IdleTime. The seminars are meant as a primer for this year’s competitors on business plans, building a company, and pitching ideas to investors (and judges). When I attended the seminars back in 2006, I found the most useful part was getting to hear the experiences of other entrepreneurs.

For that reason, I have been more than happy to go back and share my own experiences from the competition and beyond. Last night I talked about the VenturePrize process and making it to the finals, and James talked about his experience last year in the student competition and gave his presentation from the finals too.

As a presenter, I think the most enjoyable part is the question and answer period. Both James and I answered a ton of questions last night, but one stuck with me. After I had explained that we were shutting Podcast Spot down, someone asked what I would have done differently.

I didn’t have to think about it for very long, probably because Dickson and I have talked through this a number of times. There’s a ton of things I might have done differently, but two things in particular:

  1. I would have avoided using the word “podcast” in the name of our service.
  2. I would have focused on sharing audio and video for a specific niche.

I personally have nothing against the word podcast. I don’t think we hitched our wagon to the wrong horse or anything, because the underlying technology is sound and in use by millions of people around the world. The word itself has always been confusing and misleading, however. I’ve written many times that podcasting is just a word, but unfortunately most people don’t see it that way.

I also think it would have been a good idea to target our service to a specific group of people. As a service for anyone and everyone to share audio and video, we were a little too much like a YouTube clone (even though our feature set was quite a bit different). I think we could have executed more effectively with a smaller target customer base.

The follow-up question is, of course, why didn’t we do those two things? That question is much more difficult to answer!

Podcast Spot is shutting down

podcast spot As some of you undoubtedly know by now, Dickson and I recently made the decision to take Podcast Spot offline. We started notifying our users a couple weeks ago, and today made it public on the website. Here’s our message to users:

We regret to inform you that after two years of helping you share your creativity with the world, we have made the decision to cease Podcast Spot operations beginning on November 30th, 2008.

We’d like to reassure you that we’re not just flipping the switch – our plan is to shut the service down in phases. Starting December 1st, 2008 you will no longer be able to upload files to Podcast Spot, but your domain, downloads, and RSS feed will continue to operate through February 2009. During that time we’ll work with you to redirect users to your new site and feed. Beginning March 1st, 2009 Podcast Spot will be taken offline completely.

We are doing our best to ensure that the entire process is handled as smoothly as possible, and in a manner that is professional and courteous. I know if I was one of the podcasters I’d want lots of notice – so that’s what we’ve done by not taking the site down completely until next year.

Recently we’ve been in touch with Libsyn, and they have agreed to help migrate our users to their system (on an opt-in basis). That’ll be a great help for a number of our podcasters, because it means they don’t really have to do anything – we’ll work with Libsyn to make sure everything happens seamlessly. Thanks to Rob and his team for making that happen.

One other thing I should mention is that I’ve taken the Paramagnus Blog offline – it now redirects to the Paramagnus category here. I’ll post about the reasons why and what I have learned some other time, but the gist of it is that we never updated that blog anyway.

We’ve got more details up on the site, and we’ll post further updates there.

The first question we’ve generally been asked after breaking the news is “why?” Obvious question, but difficult to answer. There are lots of reasons which I’m sure I’ll explore over the next while. Dickson and I didn’t make this decision on a whim, we put a lot of thought into what would be best for us and for our users.

Even though we’re confident this is the right decision, I am still finding it hard to swallow. We put a lot of time, sweat, and money into Podcast Spot and we remain incredibly proud of what we’ve built. I know we’ve both learned an enormous amount from the whole experience. Still, I can’t help but be a little sad.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more about this in the future, but for now, I’d just like to say thank you. To our customers, to our friends and family, and to everyone we’ve met along the way, thank you for supporting Podcast Spot.

All Macked Out – Unlimited Magazine

paramagnus No, I didn’t come up with the title. But it’s sorta catchy, no? Anyway, that’s the title of an article in this month’s issue of Unlimited Magazine, part of a column called Look Who’s Teching. The column takes a look at the “wired west” and the growing number of individuals dabbling in technology here:

There’s momentum now, agrees John Bristowe, a development advisor with Microsoft Canada in Calgary. Bristowe, who talks to developers throughout Western Canada, noticed the shift in 2004. “I don’t know what happened,” he says, “but the tech community really began to take off.” Case in point: Calgary. “We’ve always had a vibrant developer community,” he says, “but what you’re seeing now is a growing interest in venture capital, entrepreneurship and the sort of things you only hear about down in Silicon Valley.”

The column introduces topics like “the unconference”, “tagging”, and “agile software development”, and profiles a number of individuals, myself included:

When Mack D. Male co-founded a software company in Edmonton at age 16, his goals were clearly and rigorously defined. One: fame. Two: fortune.

Eight years later, his ambitions have matured, and Paramagnus has grown in step.

mack in unlimited I can’t say I’m incredibly pleased with the photo – it’s kind of an awkward pose! That said, I think it’s pretty cool that they made the three photos look very similar, considering they were taken by different photographers in different cities! I haven’t yet seen what it looks like in print, but the photo online is pretty high resolution. The photographer I worked with was great too. He did his best to stick within the strict guidelines the magazine gave him.

I am quite happy with the article. I think Tyler managed to capture our conversation at Starbucks very well. He also did a really great job of ensuring he had the technical details of podcasting correct. I would however like to clarify one comment Tyler made:

Suddenly more money was going into podcast creation than was being made, and Paramagnus was left to search out the next big hit.

We’re always keeping an eye out for what’s new and cool, but that doesn’t mean that we’re ignoring Podcast Spot. We’re long overdue for an update, but we’ve still been working on it. And yes, we have something new in the works also.

Anyway, give the article a read and let me know what you think! There’s lots of other interesting things in “The Tech + Media Issue” too, so be sure to check it out.

Read: Unlimited Magazine

Six months with the day job – no thanks to school

Post Image Today marks six months of me working at Questionmark. I started there in July as a .NET developer, and so far I’m really enjoying it. The work is interesting, and the people are great. After focusing mostly on Paramagnus for the last couple years, I was kinda worried that the transition would be painful, but it hasn’t been.

Of course, transition may not be the best word as I’m still working on Paramagnus too (along with Dickson). Not as much as I used to, obviously, but Questionmark has been very accommodating thus far. The first month or two was a bit difficult, but I have more of a routine now, so that’s good. The vacation last month was a nice break from everything as well.

I think part of the reason that doing both Paramagnus and Questionmark isn’t impossible is that I’ve never worked solely on Paramagnus. Until April of 2007, I was still a full-time university student! And all jokes about skipping class aside, it still required a fair bit of time and effort. So in a lot of ways I have just replaced school with the Questionmark job.

Those of you who know me well know that I do not look back on my time at the University of Alberta with much fondness. I really enjoyed the Economics courses I took and a few of my options were pretty interesting too. My computing sciences classes, on the other hand, were largely a waste of time. I always felt that the things we were learning about were entirely irrelevant! It still bugs me, because I love technology and I love software development but I absolutely hated most of the CS courses I had to take.

I’ve always wondered if any of the CS stuff I learned would be useful in a real job. None of it was at Paramagnus (except maybe the two database courses), but I don’t think that should really count, because I have complete control over our development and how it works. Questionmark should count though, right?

I can honestly say that if I had to rely on the things I learned in computing sciences for my job at Questionmark, I’d be completely screwed.

Instead of a Bachelor’s degree in Computing Sciences, I should have gotten the BFA in Software Development, as described at Joel on Software:

When I said BFA, Bachelor of Fine Arts, I meant it: software development is an art, and the existing Computer Science education, where you’re expected to learn a few things about NP completeness and Quicksort is singularly inadequate to training students how to develop software.

Imagine instead an undergraduate curriculum that consists of 1/3 liberal arts, and 2/3 software development work. The teachers are experienced software developers from industry. The studio operates like a software company. You might be able to major in Game Development and work on a significant game title, for example, and that’s how you spend most of your time, just like a film student spends a lot of time actually making films and the dance students spend most of their time dancing.

That sounds like it might have been useful! Better yet, screw university and just start a company. I mean it – I have learned so much from Paramagnus. I can’t imagine where I’d be had I not started the company. I certainly wouldn’t have a job at Questionmark.

Is it my fault for going to the University of Alberta instead of NAIT? No, I don’t think so. The U of A is supposed to give you the best education possible, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of preparing you for the real world. Will I look back twenty years from now and find value in the CS courses I took? Never say never, but I seriously doubt it. The tech industry changes too quickly.

I think the current education model for software development is horribly flawed. Very few people want to be computer scientists, charged with proving theorems and all that other crap. I think a lot of people want to learn how to develop software, from start to finish. I laughed at first, but I think the BFA in Software Development idea is actually quite good. It could totally work!

If I’m ever in a position to make it happen, I absolutely will try.

So long 712!

Brand New BroomAs you may know, for the last few weeks Dickson and I have been moving out of the office. It was early 2005 that we decided we needed a central place to setup shop and started looking around for one. We ended up at the Empire Building on 101st Street and Jasper Avenue, a building I had been in before. We moved into Suite 712 in late April. There were lots of reasons we chose this particular building – among other things, it is secure, renovated, and well-connected (can get any kind of Internet connection in there).

The biggest positive about the location is also the biggest negative – you can’t get more central than the Empire Building.

I loved being right smack dab in the middle of downtown Edmonton. The Jasper Avenue address looks good on marketing materials, for one thing. It feels like the place a business should be. More importantly, it is easy to get to from pretty much anywhere in the city. The office was more than a place for Dickson and I to code…it became a meeting place for us and our friends. Going to the hockey game? Let’s meet at the office and take the train. Out for dinner? Meet at the office and then we’ll go. It was quite handy!

But being so central has it’s drawbacks too. Parking is pretty much nonexistent…I don’t want to think about how much gas I wasted driving around looking for a meter. There’s also the issue of Edmonton’s street people – not a major problem, but sometimes an annoyance. And the biggest drawback of all – cost.

That’s the main reason we decided to bid farewell to the office. We’ve changed quite a bit in the last two and a half years, and we just couldn’t justify the cost any longer. Our servers are in a data center now, and we’ve been working remotely more and more frequently. As an Internet+software company, we don’t really have visitors in meatspace.

That said, I still think there is value in having an office, and we may find a new one before long. Being in the same room usually can’t be beat when you’re working to solve a problem. We certainly accomplished a lot in 712 over the years. A new office will certainly be somewhere else though, with a smaller monthly bill and lots of free parking 🙂

Moving is hard work. It feels like we have been moving out of the office for months! Tonight I finally handed over the keys and access cards, making it official. The broom in the picture above was one of the last things we moved out. It’s kind of funny, because neither of us remembers buying it, and it clearly hasn’t been used (the building had a cleaning staff). Moving is definitely a good opportunity to clean house.

Now it’s finally finished. Nothing left to move, and we’re officially a virtual company again. So long 712!

Happy Birthday Podcast Spot!

Post ImageThe big news today of course is the launch of Halo 3, but it’s also important to me for another reason. It’s kind of hard to believe, but it was on this day a year ago that we launched Podcast Spot. We had no idea what to expect for our first year, but I think we can call it a success. Not a massive success, but a success nonetheless. Here’s what I wrote back in 2006:

That said, it’s just the first step, and there’s still a long way to go. We’re eager and excited to continue improving the podcasting experience, with Podcast Spot and other products too.

I’d say that still holds for today. We’re going to spend some time going through what we’ve learned over the last year, and combined with our ideas and plans, we look forward to making our second year even better.

As I said on the Paramagnus blog, thanks to everyone who has supported us and especially to the podcasters who call Podcast Spot home. It’s still pretty cool to me that people are using something I’ve built.

Read: Paramagnus