Uber launches in Edmonton

As of 10am this morning, you can now use Uber in Edmonton to get a ride to your next destination. Uber is a smartphone app and platform that connects you with a driver, as an alternative to hailing a taxi, taking public transportation, or driving yourself. It is sometimes called a ride-sharing app. Edmonton is the fourth Canadian city for Uber, which already operates in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Since launching in San Francisco in 2009, the company has expanded to 53 countries and more than 230 cities worldwide. An Uber representative bought me a beer last night to discuss the service.

To help launch the service in Edmonton, Uber has teamed up with Goodwill to hold a clothing drive. You can open the Uber app on December 18 and click a special donate button to have a car come and pick up a donation of clothing for free. The #UberClothingDrive runs from 10am to 5pm, and is also happening in Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto.

Uber now offers a range of services and the specific one launching here in Edmonton is UberX, which consists of “everyday cars for everyday use.” It’s their lowest cost offering and is described as follows by Uber:

“Peer-to-peer ride sharing offered by insured drivers who have undergone extensive background scrutiny, are fully insured and are tracked and rated through Uber technology; rides are charged at a base rate, plus time and distance.”

They say you can expect to pay about 30% less than a comparable taxi ride, and the price can drop even further if you split fares with other Uber members or use UberPOOL (which is a way to share cars with other riders who are travelling to and from nearby locations). UberPOOL isn’t available in Edmonton yet, but it will be eventually.

I’m not going to go into more detail about how Uber works here, but you can learn all about it at the Uber support site. Drivers are contractors, not employees, and Uber does not own or operate any cars itself. If you want to sign up to be a driver for Uber in Edmonton, you can do so here.

Early supporters in Edmonton

Many Edmontonians have come out in support of Uber, including some pretty high profile ones.

Back in September, Davic MacLean wrote an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal supporting Uber. Here’s what the Alberta Enterprise Group Vice President had to say:

“Ridesharing services are the future of the taxi industry, but we need to get the regulatory structure right. Policy-makers must find a way to respect the investments existing drivers and taxi companies have made into their businesses while, at the same time, promoting consumer choice without sacrificing safety.”

In an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal yesterday, Chris LaBossiere also made the case for Uber:

“With each of Uber’s product levels, from private citizen-driven uberX cars, to uberTAXI or the more luxurious uberBLACK car service, I have experienced a better product, at a significantly reduced price.”

Uber’s “rider zero”, the first person to officially use the service in Edmonton, is former Mayor Bill Smith.


Photo by Moments in Digital

“It’s great to see innovative and new business models like Uber come to Edmonton,” stated former Mayor Bill Smith. “I’ve always believed that embracing change is the best path to success. Uber’s technology will create opportunity and more transportation options for our citizens, helping this city continue to grow.”

A few weeks ago, Paula Simons hit on another reason why Edmontonians will support Uber:

“The dated oligopoly model simply doesn’t offer enough competition to improve customer service — as any Edmontonian who has been stranded on a snowy street corner by a phantom cab can attest. If Edmonton taxi companies and city officials don’t want Uber here, they need to deliver better service.”

More broadly in Canada, the Competition Bureau has publicly stated they see benefits from Uber. They encouraged municipalities to explore “whether less restrictive regulations could adequately address their concerns.”

The road to launch in Edmonton

There’s nothing from a legal or regulatory point-of-view that has changed to make Uber’s foray into Edmonton possible, so there is a little bit of uncertainty regarding how the service will be received.

Uber has met with City of Edmonton officials a couple of times over the last few months, but so far the response has been icy. Garry Dziwenka, Director of Business Licensing and Vehicle for Hire, has said the city is particularly worried about UberX. In some cities Uber drivers have been charged with bylaw infractions, sometimes through sting operations. The same thing could happen here in Edmonton.

At the September 2 meeting of Executive Committee, Mayor Iveson made an inquiry about third-party apps like Uber and their relation to the Vehicle for Hire regulations. A report is due back from City Administration in January, and Uber has said it will be there to discuss the findings.

The taxi industry is understandably worried about Uber. About a month ago, the Edmonton Taxi Service Group noted the legal battle Uber faces in Vancouver and said that if the company came to Edmonton, “we’ll do what we have to do”. They’re ready to go to court. The Vehicle for Hire Industry Advisory Group has discussed Uber at each of its last four meetings. A cooperative group made up of members of the taxi and limousine industry, the advisory group has no power to govern the industry but is convened by the City to provide advice (City Council’s Vehicle for Hire Commission was disbanded in March 2012). The advisory group was slated to discuss the pending report in response to Mayor Iveson’s inquiry last week.

It could just be coincidence, but I’ve noticed a concerted effort by the City to educate citizens about illegal cabs recently. The campaign began around Halloween and included a survey on the Edmonton Insight Community. Earlier this month the City announced you can now report problem cabs using your smartphone. Again, it could just be a coincidence, but the timing does seem suspect.

In his op-ed yesterday, Chris LaBossiere discussed the debate about Uber in Edmonton:

“Cities around the world are fighting ride-sharing services, instead of adapting to work with them. My own discussions with some of our politicians and bureaucrats lead me to believe that Edmonton will be no different.”

I tend to agree. He continued:

“We are about to see a fierce debate play out in our city. The taxi industry will fight ride-sharing services. They naturally want to protect their monopoly. Some establishment-thinking politicians and bureaucrats will lack the courage to change our regulations and accept a product that virtually everyone wants.”

I am happy to see Uber launch in Edmonton and I believe their participation in the transportation marketplace will ultimately be a good thing for Edmontonians. It won’t be easy though.

Controversy seems to follow Uber

To say that Uber is controversial might be an understatement, and not just with taxi companies. They have been sued by Los Angeles and San Francisco, they’re banned in Dehli, the company faces dozens of charges and legal troubles in Toronto (despite support from Mayor John Tory), and their business practices have been increasingly under the microscope. Uber is accused of digging up dirt on journalists who criticize the company, and they got into a very public fight with PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy as a result. They’re also accused of creating thousands of fake requests to cause trouble for rival service Lyft.

Here’s a collection of headlines I came across just this week related to Uber:

I’m generally a believer that where there’s smoke there’s fire, so it’s definitely worrying to hear of Uber’s questionable business practices. Do I want to do business with a company that seems to play dirty so brazenly?

On the other hand, Uber is a disruptive force all around the world. They’re attacking established markets in hundreds of cities all with different rules and regulations and all at the same time. They need to be aggressive if they’re going to succeed, and they’re going to ruffle a few feathers along the way.

What’s next?

I used Uber in Miami last week, and I plan to use it here in Edmonton also. Along with public transportation and carsharing services like Pogo, having Uber in Edmonton makes the prospect of not owning a vehicle even more realistic. It’ll be a positive force for competition in the city.

I have no doubt that Uber competitors like Lyft will follow (in fact they tweeted to me that they’d like to come up to Edmonton soon). If Uber has already done the heavy lifting, why not enter the market also? I wouldn’t expect that to happen until whatever legal tussles that might occur have been dealt with, but it’ll happen.

Uber is here and they’re here to stay. They’ll fight whatever challenges come up just as they have done in other markets. If the service is embraced by Edmontonians, the regulations and monopolies will eventually give way. For the next month they’ll be flying a little under the radar, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens after the City report is released in January. Get ready for some fireworks!

You can follow Uber in Edmonton on Twitter. Here’s their official blog post about UberX in Edmonton.

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 26

After missing the 25th DemoCamp (I was there in spirit) I was very much looking forward to last night’s DemoCamp Edmonton 26. I enjoy seeing what other local developers have been up to, and I almost always walk away feeling inspired. It’s also a great way to meet some new folks in the startup scene over beer.

Cam Linke
As always, the event was hosted by Cam Linke

The demos were (in order of appearance):

For this recap, I decided to record some thoughts on each of the demos, which you can listen to on MixCloud:

You can also download the MP3 here.

My favorite demo of the evening was StormBoard. Maybe a little unfair considering how well-established the app is and how seasoned Reg is at presenting, but I thought it was great. Compelling, well-designed, and feature-rich. Give it a try if you haven’t already!

Team Stormboard

Keep an eye on the Startup Edmonton Meetup group for more upcoming tech events. They have also added a listing of all the meetups taking place at Startup to the website.

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 27!

Recap: Launch Party Edmonton 5

Last night Startup Edmonton hosted its fifth Launch Party, “the city’s flagship startup event that celebrates and showcases the hottest startups in town.” Hundreds of Edmontonians attended to learn more about ten new local companies. A short program at the start included an overview from Startup’s Tiffany, remarks from presenting partner QUALICO Commercial, remarks from EEDC, and greetings from Mayor Don Iveson.

Mayor Don Iveson

Mayor Iveson said that startups are another reason that Edmonton is getting noticed. He shared a thought that he heard recently, which is that your city isn’t on the map when someone opens a branch office there, it’s on the map when a company from your city opens a branch office somewhere else! Citing the recent news that 40% of all new jobs in Canada last year were generated in Edmonton, he told the presenting companies, “you’re going to create a lot more!”

This was one of the first public events at which EEDC acknowledged the acquisition of Startup Edmonton, a relationship highlighted by the recently relaunched Ignite Edmonton website. Chief Operating Officer Derek Hudson talked about Startup being part of the EEDC family, and highlighted the strengthening startup ecosystem in our city.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

The ten presenting companies represented a range of industries and opportunities, including education, HR, oil & gas, and home automation. They were:

I spent some time checking out Alieo Games and their creative learning product called COW (Creative Online Writing). Alieo’s Kit Chen explained the idea to me, which is that kids don’t practice writing enough and through gamification, there’s an opportunity to change that. We co-wrote a short story that I very creatively called “the monkey by the river” to get sense of how the tool works. Kids can choose between a blank page or a prompt to help them start writing. As they write, they’re presented with bonus words that they are meant to incorporate. If they do, they earn Alieo dollars that they can spend on their avatar. When they’re done, the system presents some statistics of their writing to help them improve.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

The plan is to try to get schools to adopt the tool, but they are also pricing it so that a single teacher could use it with his or her own class with discretionary funds. The three primary people behind the company are all PhD candidates at the University of Alberta, so they’re building this company alongside that already ambitious endeavour! Alieo Games is an eHUB Startup, and won first place in the TEC VenturePrize Student Competition last year. You can follow them on Twitter for updates.

I also spoke with Alexis Alchorn from Pogo CarShare. They were probably the most high profile of the participating companies, given they had just done a big reveal earlier in the day. Pogo is similar to other carsharing services like Car2Go, but it is created by Edmontonians for Edmontonians. Basically you use a mobile app or the website to see where the cars are currently parked, you go and pick one up using your membership card and PIN code, take your trip, then park the car somewhere within the zone when you’re done and it becomes available for another member to use. It really could enable two car households to drop down to one, or maybe even allow some people to go without a car altogether!

Pogo CarShare

It costs just $35 to sign up, and after that you only pay for what you use – $0.47 per minute, $14.99 per hour, or $69.99 per day, and those costs are inclusive of gas, insurance, etc. You can even take the car out of the city for the weekend, and you pay $0.30 per km after 200km. Pogo is starting with just 20 vehicles but they hope to expand that number pretty quickly (down in Calgary, Car2Go has more than 500 vehicles). You probably have more questions, so fortunately they have an extensive FAQ page.

Given that Calgary is one of the fastest growing markets for Car2Go, I have long wondered why we didn’t have a carsharing service here in Edmonton. Now that Pogo is here, I hope to see them succeed. That said, it won’t be easy. They’ve done the heavy lifting of getting the right parking permit created in Edmonton, so in theory a competitor could more easily come to our city now. And one disadvantage as I see it is that if you’re a Car2Go member, you can use the service in any of the more than 30 locations they operate in. In practice I’m not sure how often that happens, but it’s a nice perk of being a member if you travel a lot, and at least for now, Pogo is Edmonton-only. Anyway, I wish them well!

I was intrigued by the name MASV and the “cloud communications” subtitle, so I spent a bit of time talking to co-founder Manson about the idea. Basically MASV is a tool to connect oil & gas companies with equipment rentals over the phone. The unique thing is that the automated phone system uses cloud-based voice recognition and proprietary filtering algorithms to connect renters with the right company. The problem they solve is that out in the field, a phone is often the only tool an oil & gas company can rely on, and they need to source equipment quickly.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

They’re using Node.js and Twilio to power the system. The business model is to have the rental companies pay a fee to be included in the directory and thus available to be connected with renters. MASV is also an eHUB Startup. They anticipate launching early next year.

I thought TwoFold’s Alison McMahon had a great elevator pitch, so I talked to her to learn more about the tools TwoFold has built to create better managers. She said “people usually quit their managers, not their jobs”. Alison is an HR consultant who has been working with companies to implement best practices and develop their managers, so she has lots of experience in the industry. After seeing the same problems again and again, the idea for TwoFold was born.

Twofold

TwoFold provides managers with tools and processes they can follow without being HR experts. Employee surveys, coaching plans, orientation schedules, training history, and performance conversations are all examples. The interface looks pretty clean and is something I could have seen myself greatly benefiting from when I first became a manager. Pricing ranges from $25 per month for up to 15 employees, to $1,200 per month or more for more than 100 employees.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

I didn’t spend as much time at the other companies, but all were interesting. I remember talking to Jason Suriano about his product Trajectory about three years ago, so it was neat to see that it has come to fruition and has customers already. TeachMe is also tackling education through gaming, but instead of writing they focus on math. Otto is a “system-in-a-box” that enables home automation, targeted at builders and renovators rather than end consumers. Instacoins enables you to buy Bitcoin with your bank account using Interac Online, simple as that. OMx is in the health space, and they have a dashboard that aims to give you better information about your body. And MADSOFT Games is focused on browser-based gaming.

The event took place at EPCOR Tower, in the expansive main floor space. As my friend Jeff remarked, the location nicely reflected the Startup Edmonton mantra that was visible on stage: “whatever you’re thinking, think bigger.” It was a very different feel than last year’s launch party, which took place at Startup Edmonton itself. Bigger, bolder, and more polished.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

Launch Party took place on day four of Startup Week, which saw a number of entrepreneurship-oriented events take part all across the city. Kudos to Ken, Cam, and the entire Startup Edmonton crew on a great event and a successful week of celebrating startups in Edmonton!

You can see the rest of my photos from the event here. You can see my previous posts about Launch Party here: #1, #2, #3, #4.

Open Data in Edmonton is exciting again

After a few years of stagnation, I feel like open data in Edmonton is exciting again. This has been a great year for open data and open government in our city! Here’s an update on what’s been happening.

International Open Data Day really kicked things off back in February with a hackathon hosted by EPL at the new Makerspace. It was a great opportunity for developers to come together to take a fresh look at the municipal, provincial, and federal data catalogues, all of which have grown considerably in the last year or so.

International Open Data Day Hackathon

In May, a group of interested citizens organized a hackathon called HackYEG. Mayor Iveson spoke at the event which was a great success and led to a number of really interesting projects. The event also led to a new citizen meetup, called Open Edmonton. The group was started by Lydia Zvyagintseva and David Rauch and meets at Startup Edmonton on the third Wednesday of every month. Follow them on Twitter for the latest events and other “open” news.

The City of Edmonton unveiled its Open City Initiative in June, which highlighted a number of principles, goals, and objectives that will help to make Edmonton an Open City. It’s heavy on talk and light on action, but it signals a renewed effort on the part of the City to support open data and related initiatives. Importantly, it also opened the door to a policy on open data and open government, which would change the dynamic inside the City from “we could support this” to “we must support this.”

open city framework

The federal government began a series of consultations in February this year to gather input on Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government 2.0. Edmonton was included in those consultations, with a roundtable event that took place on August 27. Treasury Board President Tony Clement hosted the session that was attended by representatives from the City of Edmonton, Province of Alberta, industry, and the community at large.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement
Treasury Board President Tony Clement

MP Clement was also in Edmonton talking about open data last year, gathering input for the 1.0 verson of the plan. The draft 2.0 plan will be available for review and comment starting October 6.

At the end of August, I think open data scored a small but important victory when the results of the 2014 Municipal Census were made available. For the first time, the data was in the open data catalogue at the same time as it was released to the public in PDF and via the media. A sign that the Open City Initiative is being taken seriously, perhaps?

Earlier this month Edmonton hosted a stop on the cross-Canada motorcycle tour on open government undertaken by Richard Pietro. The whole idea behind the tour was to “ignite conversation about open government and open data” and to “encourage citizens to become more civically engaged.” A number of local advocates spoke at the event, which highlighted some of the success Edmonton has had with regards to open data. Here’s a recap from Richard himself.

Open Government Tour
Photo by Richard Pietro

Last week I was one of five speakers at the Lunchalytics event focused on open data. Chris Moore, Eugene Chen, Mark Diner, and Michael Parkatti also spoke about open data and analytics. The room was packed and some really great projects and initiatives were highlighted, such as the Alberta Economic Dashboard. There’s clearly a growing interest in such visualizations and tools.

Later this week I’m speaking at the Right to Know Forum, hosted by Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton. The event will feature presentations on right to access, information management, open data initiatives, and the benefits of open data. It’s a sign of just how far open data has come that OIPC is hosting a forum on the topic!

Throughout the year, the various data catalogues have been growing. And it’s not just Canada, Alberta, and Edmonton that are making datasets available. Other communities in the Edmonton Region are getting behind open data too, like the County of Strathcona which now has more than 100 datasets available to citizens. Even St. Albert has started experimenting with open data, through its Property Search tool (which allows you to export the data).

I know that some Edmontonians, like Matthew Dance, Chris Moore, and Mark Diner, have always been local open data advocates, even and especially during the years I’m calling stagnant. But lately it’s refreshing to see an entirely new group of Edmontonians getting involved. Just this evening I was at a meeting in which the City’s open data catalogue was referenced (and not by me!). There’s a growing awareness and interest that is encouraging.

If you’ve been on the fence about open data or have been thinking about learning more, now’s the time. Check out Open Edmonton and get involved!

Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2014

Local entrepreneurs were celebrated tonight at the 12th annual TEC VenturePrize awards celebration in Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre. More than $200,000 in prizes were handed out to the nine finalists across three competitions!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Here’s what VenturePrize is all about:

“You have a business idea, but don’t necessarily have the business training to launch your company. The more you brainstorm about transforming your vision into a venture, the more questions you have. What are the legal issues with creating a company? Where is the financing going to come from? Am I targeting the right market? Find out by participating in the TEC VenturePrize business plan competition.”

It’s a great opportunity for participants to make connections with investors and other entrepreneurs, to learn more about what it takes to run a business, and to gain valuable insight from experienced mentors.

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Our host for the evening was Ryan Jespersen from BT Edmonton. Premier Dave Hancock opened the event bringing greetings on behalf of the Province, followed by TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb who brought opening remarks and also presented the Recognition Award to Bob Teskey. His acceptance speech was about twelve seconds long, which helped to contribute to a timely program that finished slightly ahead of schedule.

“Bob envisioned and designed the TEC Edmonton structure: an unincorporated Joint Venture to create strong commitment among Joint Venture partners, enable the University and City ti work together in unique ways, and build linkages between university and community.

This award is presented in recognition of Bob’s role in growing a strong Edmonton, through his outstanding ability to forge institutional partnerships.”

Mayor Iveson was the next speaker. He talked about the changing energy in Edmonton, and said “it’s getting easier to make an idea reality in this city.” Mayor Iveson stayed on stage to help interview the three student competition finalists: AlieoGames, Livi Design, and Smart Count Health. All three were from the University of Alberta!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

This year TELUS came on board to sponsor the first ever ICT Competition at VenturePrize. We heard pitches from the three finalists: It’s Date Night, MyMenu, and Zayfti. You can learn more about each one at TEC Edmonton. Given the ridiculous state of online restaurant menus, I really hope that Edmonton-based MyMenu is successful in its quest to help diners with dietary restrictions. It’ll be tough to get restaurants to upload menus though when so many don’t even keep their own sites up-to-date!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Since 2002, the Fast Growth competition has awarded more than $1.5 million to Alberta-based entrepreneurs to help them grow their companies, an impressive number of which are still operating! The finalists in this year’s competition were:

Belgravia Tech Inc.

“BTI has created a safe, reliable, and cost effective alternative to a nuclear reactor-generated medical isotope vital for timely diagnosis and management of patient treatment for many major health issues, including cancer and heart problems. BTI’s unique technology is well positioned to fill this critical need and provide healthcare organizations with the means to offer quality care for heart and cancer patients worldwide.”

Localize Services Inc.

“Localize in an Edmonton-based company that helps tell the stories behind the foods we all love. Their unique grocery-shelf labeling service rapidly collects and conveys product information to consumers, making it easy for grocers anywhere to launch local, regional, and domestic food campaigns in their stores. These smartphone-enabled tags and unique “Localize scores” empower shoppers to quickly learn the who, what, where, and how behind thousands of products on grocery shelves across Canada.”

Tactalis

“Tactalis develops amazing tactile tablet computer systems that help people who are blind or visually impaired to explore, create and share images and digital media that they cannot see. Each of their award winning products has a unique touch sensitive interface and embedded tactile display that lets users touch and feel physical representations of features, symbols and graphics on an LCD screen.”

All very interesting companies with great elevator pitches! I think the work that Localize is doing is really important and they delivered a really clear message to the audience this evening. Tactalis has such an interesting product – think of it like braille for the digital era. I can see a huge market for what they’re doing!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Up next was the keynote speaker, Dianne Buckner. She spoke about the art of the pitch, giving the judges an opportunity to leave the room to make their final deliberations. As the host of CBC’s Dragon’s Den and as a member of the Business Team at CBC News, Dianne knows a thing or two about pitching. Her advice tonight? Do tell a story, don’t let a “dragon” discourage you, do align your goals with those of the person you’re pitching, and don’t be afraid to talk about your weaknesses. She also said to keep in mind that the first thing you’re pitching is always yourself – if they aren’t interested in you or don’t think you’re competent, why would they be interested in your product or service?

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Finally, it was time to find out the winners!

Edmonton Journal People’s Choice Award
Localize Services Inc., with 59.5% of the vote

TEC VenturePrize Student Business Plan Award
AlieoGames

VenturePrize TELUS Information & Communication Technology Award
MyMenu

TEC VenturePrize Fast Growth Grand Prize Award
Localize Services Inc.

It was a big night for Startup Edmonton, as all of the winners and many of the finalists had a connection in some form or another to the organization. It’s great to see the continued positive momentum behind entrepreneurship in Edmonton!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Congratulations to Localize and to all of the participants, finalists, and winners! Thanks to TEC Edmonton for providing me with a seat tonight to capture the action. You can see more photos from the evening here.

Was your first mobile phone a Nokia too?

The first cell phone I ever owned was a Nokia 5190. I was moving down to Edmonton, away from my family, and my Dad wanted to make sure I had a cell phone. I remember going to the Fido store at Londonderry Mall and being quite excited to own something so futuristic!

nokia 5110

My phone was green, and it served me well for a few years. I used it mostly for phone calls, but also for Snake! Eventually I upgraded to a Motorola Timeport (the popular silver flip phone, I think it was a P8767). From there I went to a BlackBerry, then an LG, and now an HTC. Many people have gone to Apple or Samsung of course, but I bet the vast majority of us started with Nokia phones. They’ve shipped billions of devices over the years!

As a Windows Phone fan, I think it’s safe to say my next phone will be a Nokia, though it’ll be from a different company than the one I started with:

“Microsoft Corp. has announced the completion of its acquisition of Nokia Devices and Services business. The completion of the acquisition marks an important step in bringing these two organisations together as one team, a process that is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Stephen Elop, former Nokia President and CEO, will serve as executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices Group, reporting to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Elop will lead an expanded team made up of Xbox, Xbox Live, Microsoft Studios, Microsoft Hardware, Surface and Nokia Devices and Services.”

This is really exciting. Nokia pretty much owns the Windows Phone market already, and all of the exciting hardware and feature advancements seem to come from Nokia. I’m happy with my HTC 8X (especially with the new Windows Phone 8.1), but there’s no question that Nokia devices are the way to go for Windows Phone.

Nokia Day One

Officially the division is now called Microsoft Mobile, but they do have an agreement to continue using the Nokia brand for a period of time. No word yet on what the branding of future phones will be, but it’s safe to say that Lumia will be the primary brand name.

Microsoft now controls the entire stack, from device to operating system to cloud, just like Apple, and just like Samsung is rumored to be exploring. Should make for interesting times in the mobile market over the next few years!

I’m not sure when I’ll switch phones, but I have found myself looking longingly at the new Lumia Icon. We’ll see how long I can hold out…

Digital Canada 150: The plan for Canada’s digital future

Have you heard about Digital Canada 150? I bookmarked the plan on April 4 because it caught my eye when Industry Minister James Moore announced it.

“Digital Canada 150 encompasses 39 new initiatives that build on our government’s successful measures for a more connected Canada. It is based on 250 submissions that were received from more than 2,000 Canadians who registered to participate in online consultations held over three months in 2010.”

In his speech, Minister Moore said “we want to position Canada among the world’s leaders in adopting digital technologies.” You can watch the speech here – which makes sense if we’re going all-in on digital! He made it clear that this isn’t just a Government of Canada plan, but that it requires “polytechnics, clusters, universities, start-ups, angel investors, apps developers, chambers of commerce, business leaders, community leaders” to all work together to realize the vision.

“Working together, we can prepare Canada for a new digital world and shape the course of our country for years to come.”

The plan is called Digital Canada 150 because it is meant to coincide with our country’s 150th birthday in 2017. I understand that much of the plan was already in place, though there are some new initiatives too.

The plan contains five key pillars:

  1. Connecting Canadians: An effective digital policy is one that connects Canadians through high-speed Internet access and the latest wireless technologies
  2. Protecting Canadians: Canadians will be protected from online threats and misuse of digital technology.
  3. Economic Opportunities: Canadians will have the skills and opportunities necessary to succeed in an interconnected global economy.
  4. Digital Government: The Government of Canada will demonstrate leadership in the use of digital technologies and open data.
  5. Canadian Content: Providing easy online access to Canadian content will allow us to celebrate our history, arts, and culture and share it with the world

Digital Canada 150

While much of the plan reads like marketing-speak for the Government, there are some things that I was happy to see, particularly under the “What’s New” section of each pillar. Here are a few thoughts on each.

À la carte TV

Will we really get to pick & choose channels?

“We will work with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to develop a plan to unbundle television channels and ensure cable and satellite providers offer Canadian consumers the option to pick and choose the combination of television channels they want.”

It would be fantastic to only choose the ten or so channels that we actually watch, rather than having to buy the giant package, but I just don’t see this happening anytime soon. Especially since it’s something they’ve been working on for a while now. I’m skeptical but hopeful that this initiative actually comes to fruition.

Have your say on where cell towers are built

Living downtown I don’t really notice cell antennas (as they are typically on top of buildings) but I know people in more residential areas do.

“We introduced changes to the policy on how new cellphone towers are installed to ensure that local residents and governments are at the forefront of the tower placement process.”

Edmonton City Council adopted a new policy on cell towers last January, but ultimately their placement is up to Industry Canada. That’s why the announcement on February 5, 2014 was a step in the right direction, ensuring that residents are informed and consulted.

Stop the Spam

Some estimates peg the amount of spam at up to 92% of all email messages sent each year. It’s a problem, though not as bad as it was a few years ago.

“We passed Canada’s world-leading anti-spam law, which comes into force July 1, 2014, to protect Canadians from malicious online attacks.”

While it’s great to see tougher legislation on the spam problem, I’m not sure how much of an impact the law will actually have. Filters and other technological solutions have come a long way in recent years, and at least for me personally, receiving spam nowadays is relatively rare.

More funding for startups

Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013 announced $60 million over five years for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program (CAIP).

“Support for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program will increase to $100 million to help digital entrepreneurs take the next step in developing their businesses.”

Increasing the fund will help to make even more accelerator and incubator programs, like those run at Startup Edmonton, possible. These kinds of organizations have a big impact on the viability of early-stage firms and entrepreneurs. The deadline to apply to the existing CAIP fund was October 30, 2013 so presumably a new round of applications will now be accepted.

Open Data

The Government of Canada has quickly caught up to other jurisdictions, making a significant amount of data available online in its open data catalogue.

“We will continue to support and stimulate the app economy and create a homegrown open data developer ecosystem in Canada.”

Last year, Minister Tony Clement came to Edmonton to talk about the government’s revamped open data portal. They have definitely worked to continue improving the catalogue, in both the breadth of data available and in the features offered. There’s still a lot of data that could be added though, so it’s great to see a continued push to take this forward!

More history available online

Established in 1978 as the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions, Canadiana.org has been working to make Canada’s heritage content available digitally for quite some time now.

“We will continue to support the digitization and online publication of millions of images through the partnership of Library and Archives Canada and Canadiana.org.”

While I’d like to see an initiative to capture Canada’s digital history as we create it (think a Canadian version of archive.org) I’m happy to see that we haven’t given up on making all of the existing content available online.

The final section of the plan is called “Moving Forward” and it thankfully acknowledges that things change quickly in the world of technology:

“It is imperative that we keep our plan current because, in the digital world, change is the only constant. We are committed to continuously updating Digital Canada 150, adapting to better serve Canadians.”

It’s not clear what I as an individual can do to help move Digital Canada 150 forward, aside from “acquiring the skills and embracing the opportunities of the digital economy.” Still, it’s encouraging to have a national plan for becoming a digital nation.

Now if only we could adopt a national strategy for public transit…

Edmonton’s 2014 Municipal Census goes online

The City of Edmonton is conducting its biennial census this year, and for the first time, you can participate online! The census is an important tool for collecting up-to-date demographic information that is used in decision-making and also for per-capita grants. Completing the census online is optional, so if you do nothing, a census worker will come to your door as in years past.

Here’s how it works. Over the next couple days, every household will be receiving a letter with information on how to complete the census online. That letter will include a PIN that you’ll use to access the online questions. The questions being asked online and in person are the same, except for one extra question that only online respondents will get to answer:

“In the future, what additional channels or sources would your household like added to receive information regarding City services?”

The idea is for the City to get an idea of citizen expectations for getting information out about services. The reason that question is only being asked online is because it requires a written response (presumably it would be too slow for door-to-door collection). If you’re wondering how to answer it, my suggestion would be to write “open data”!

The online census is powered by Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based company that sells electronic voting machines (it was founded in Toronto in 2002). Their solution for Canadian municipalities is also being used by Lethbridge this year.

In an effort to help people complete the census online, the City of Edmonton is hosting a series of outreach events over the next couple of weeks:

“The staff will be there offering guidance and support to individuals who wish to complete their census online using computers available at the various venues. Any one who would like information on the online census option, or assistance with completing their census online, are welcome to attend.”

The online portion of the census starts tomorrow, April 10 at 8am and will run until 8pm on April 27. Door-to-door collection will begin on May 10, which will enable workers to avoid visiting any household that has already participated online. Census workers present City-issued identification so you can ensure they are legitimate workers before answering any questions. If you’re interested in being a census worker, you can apply here.

I was disappointed when Council voted last year against adopting online voting, so I’m quite pleased to see the City taking another step in the online direction with this year’s census. I hope it is a success and builds confidence for future online endeavours!

You can see my post on the results of the 2012 Municipal Census here. If you’re curious, here’s Policy C520B, the Municipal Census Policy.

Some of my favorite gadgets as of March 2014

It’s probably no surprise to you that I love gadgets. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for a new shiny toy. Some of the gadgets I buy turn out to be underwhelming or less useful than I had hoped, but some quickly become indispensable. This is highly subjective of course, but it seems like more and more of the gadgets I have bought recently are good quality, very useful, and attractive. Am I getting better at picking them, or has the bar just generally been raised?

Here are a few of my current favorites!

Doxie One

I bought a Doxie One back in November 2012 when I decided I was going to get serious about going paperless. That quest is ongoing, but the Doxie has definitely made a difference! I use it to scan invoices, receipts, business cards, and even handouts from all the different media events I go to. Unlike old school scanners that need to be connected to your computer and have terrible software, the Doxie scans things to an SD card that you can then plug into the computer later. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes when you can separate those two tasks – scanning feels like less of a chore with the Doxie. The app it comes with is great too, letting you save scans as PDF, images, and other formats straight into OneNote, Dropbox, or wherever you like. Love it!

Logitech Wireless Headset H800

I spend a lot of time on calls for work, via Lync or Skype. I have lost count of the number of USB headsets I’ve had over the years. After the cable on my last one eventually deteriorated, I decided to go wireless. I settled on the Logitech Wireless Headset H800 and could not be happier. It’s sleek and light, produces great quality sound, and supports both a tiny USB dongle and bluetooth, which means I can use it with both my desktop and my mobile devices. The headset charges using a micro USB cable which is handy (because pretty much every other device uses the same cable). Battery life is not amazing, but is more than adequate.

Jabra SPEAK 410

I first used a Jabra SPEAK when I was hosting some meetings at Startup Edmonton. I loved it so much, I decided to go and buy one! When I’m with colleagues or simply don’t want to wear my headset, I’ll use the Jabra. It is absolutely fantastic. It’s small and highly portable, produces great sound, and I love the controls. Answer, hangup, mute, volume – all seamlessly work with Lync and Skype. No software necessary either, just plug it in and away you go!

Bose SoundLink Mini

Sharon and I wanted a small speaker for our condo so after looking around at various options, I eventually decided on the Bose SoundLink Mini. It’s a bluetooth speaker and is meant to be portable (though we just leave it on the dock all the time). It produces fantastic sound, so good that I’m now looking to replace my crappy desktop speakers because they sound so bad in comparison. I can pair my Surface and Sharon has paired her phone with the speaker, so either one of us can play music easily. It’s perfect for when we’re cooking or have guests over or just want to have some background tunes.

Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Wireless Keyboard K810

When I bought my Surface Pro, I decided to get the touch cover (the flat one without physical keys). It works great when I’m on the go, but at home I wanted a keyboard with actual keys to use. I decided on the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810. It’s pretty small and connects via bluetooth with the ability to switch between thee devices just by pressing one button. It’s also illuminated, and with a hand proximity sensor, it turns off the backlight to save power when your hands are not near it. Speaking of power, I don’t think I have ever had to charge it. Granted I don’t use it all the time, but still, the battery life is impressive.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop

Last but not least is the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. I wasn’t sure if I’d like the ergonomic keyboard and mouse, but this is absolutely the best combo I have ever owned. The mouse is surprisingly comfortable and uses real batteries (I’ve given up on so many mice because the rechargeable batteries all suck). The keyboard is the star though. It’s striking design looks great on my desk and it’s incredibly comfortable. You can see where my hands have rubbed against the cushioned palm rest, but still, it has held up well. My favorite part are the keys – they are more like laptop keys than traditional desktop keyboard keys, with less “throw”. I also love that it comes with a separate number pad, which I never use, meaning it doesn’t clutter up my desk.

I use The Wirecutter quite a bit for reviews, so check it out if you haven’t come across it already. I’m always looking for new gadgets, so who knows what I’ll be using in a year or two. Things are changing so quickly and for the better!

International Open Data Day in Edmonton

Today is Open Data Day around the world, and here in Edmonton we celebrated with a hackathon at the Edmonton Public Library’s new Makerspace. A few dozen people came out to learn more about open data, to hear ideas from others, and to start exploring and building.

International Open Data Day Hackathon

The day started off with “speed data-ing”, where anyone who wanted to could pitch an idea to the room. Once the pitches were done, there were a lot of great conversations taking place as everyone figured out how they wanted to spend their time for the rest of the day. Teams slowly self-assembled, and then everyone got to work.

International Open Data Day Hackathon

At the end of the day, teams had the opportunity to show off the progress they had made throughout the day. One team worked on visualizing open datasets so that they could be more easily accessed and used by educators. Another team looked at visualizing how many dogs there are and which breeds are most popular in different areas of the city. The winning idea was a visualization of tree data in Edmonton. Hackathons are typically longer than just a few hours, so it was impressive to see what everyone was able to come up with given the time constraints!

International Open Data Day Hackathon

There has never been a better time to be an open data developer in Edmonton. The City of Edmonton’s open data catalogue now contains more than 400 datasets, and the Citizen Dashboard that sits atop the catalogue recently won a national public-sector leadership award. The Government of Alberta’s open data catalogue also has more than 400 datasets now, and it only launched last May. The Government of Canada recently expanded and updated its large open data catalogue. And just this week, Strathcona County launched its own data catalogue featuring more than 60 datasets.

International Open Data Day Hackathon

Many other cities around the world hosted hackathons today too. Here’s what Open Data Day is about:

Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption open data policies by the world’s local, regional and national governments.

Open Data has come a long way over the last few years. It has been adopted by governments around the world both large and small, and even organizations like the G8 have adopted an Open Data Charter. Countless apps and services have been developed to take advantage of all that information, and I think the best is yet to come. If you’re looking for an open data primer, check out the Government of Canada’s Open Data 101 or check out the Apps Gallery.

Thanks to the City and EPL for hosting a fun and creative day at the Makerspace! You can see more photos from the day here.