#yeg turns five

#yegToday marks the fifth anniversary of the #yeg hashtag on Twitter (here’s #yeg tweet number one). Can you believe it has been five years since Twitter started to take hold here in Edmonton? I can’t. I’m also continually surprised at the impact our humble hashtag has had on this city. Here’s something I wrote back in 2009 about the start of the #yeg hashtag.

It started out simply but has exploded in use since, and not just online. Now it is common to see the tag offline, even in the names of companies like YEG Live. I’m always surprised when newcomers to Twitter discover and start using the hashtag, but I’m even more surprised when I see it out in the offline world! What is it about those three letters?

YEG didn’t start with Twitter, of course. Most Edmontonians would associate YEG with Edmonton because of our international airport, constructed around 1960. According to Tom Hinderks and Richard Skermer, YEG would likely have been assigned to us roughly a year before the airport received its operating certificate, so that would have been 1959. That means those three letters have been associated with Edmonton for more than 50 years! But it wasn’t until Twitter came along that Edmontonians really started to embrace YEG as a sort of identity for the city. It was probably a wise decision for the Edmonton International Airport to focus on EIA as its brand rather than YEG, because there’s a risk it would have gotten lost amongst the chatter.

Use of the hashtag on Twitter has grown fairly steadily over the years. Today it might not even be the hashtag that you follow most, it might instead be one of the 430+ related tags that have become popular such as #yegfood or #yegtraffic. There were nearly 1 million tweets posted by Edmontonians last year that included the #yeg hashtag or one of the related tags, and that’s up from less than 140,000 in 2009.

How do you pronounce it? I did an informal survey on Twitter in December 2011, and that was one of the questions I asked. About 61% say yegg (rhymes with egg), the rest spell it out as in why-e-gee. Around the same time I asked Chris Martyniuk, co-founder of YEG Live, how he pronounces it. “Originally we were adamant about spelling it out,” he told me. “But we gave in about a year ago, because everyone said ‘yegg live’.” However you choose to say it aloud, online those three letters have become synonymous with Edmonton.

People from other cities often comment on how connected and tight-knit the online community in Edmonton seems to be, and I think the #yeg hashtag is really at the heart of that. We’ve used it to make new friends, to share the news, to raise money for important charitable causes, and for thousands of other interesting and important reasons. The world of social media is very different today than it was in 2008, with a variety of new services like Pinterest and Instagram, but the #yeg hashtag remains as a way to bind it all together.

I had no idea that Twitter would become as popular as it has in Edmonton, nor that the #yeg hashtag would take hold and play such a significant role in creating a sense of community here. Thank you to everyone who has used #yeg to make this a richer, more interesting city to call home.

Here’s to the next five years of #yeg!

AccelerateAB 2013: The Next Billion Users with Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs

In less than a month, Alberta’s tech entrepreneurs and investors will descend upon Calgary for AccelerateAB. Now in its third year, AccelerateAB is an initiative of the A100 focused on “connecting, educating and showcasing the incredible tech companies that proudly call Alberta home.” It’s not just locals you can expect to see there, but also mentors and investors from around the country and across the continent.

This event is a true melting pot that brings together Alberta’s seasoned veterans, young punks, quality mentors, whip-smart investors and keen students, all with the goal of building Alberta’s tech ecosystem. With speakers, mentors and investors jetting in from Silicon Valley and all across Canada, this isn’t just a great tech event for Alberta, it’s a great tech event. Period.

Here’s a promo video for the event:

This year’s opening keynote features Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs who will be speaking about The Next Billion Users:

The next billion users: the global opportunity of wireless. As mobile technology spreads throughout the developing world, everything we know about mobile communication, commerce and information is about to change.

I had the opportunity to talk with Gary back in April about his keynote.

Born in Toronto, Gary completed his BComm and MBA at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business throughout the 90s. Though now located in California, he does make it back to Calgary a couple of times a year. Given that AccelerateAB is taking place during the Stampede, Gary said he was looking forward to returning with his family. Beyond that, he relishes the opportunity to connect with Alberta-based entrepreneurs. “I want to bring my mistakes and lessons back to people who are working hard in Alberta,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to speak one-to-many, not just one-to-one.”

Gary has talked about the next billion users before. He spoke at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona back in February, and I encourage you to check out his blog post about the topic. “It took 22 years for the first billion users to come online, and everything changed,” Gary started. “The next two billion will come online over the next five years.” It’s that dramatic pace that has Gary most excited. “If we thought we were moving fast before, we can’t even understand this change.”

The interesting thing about the next billion users is that they aren’t tied down. “They won’t be constrained by any existing process,” Gary said. “They can start something new.” Sending money using a phone might be a shift in habit for someone from Canada used to visiting a bank, but for the next billion that will be just the way you do things. I mentioned that students in Africa often receive test scores via text message, whereas I had to wait for a piece of paper when I was in high school. Being free of the context of paper is part of what makes the coming shift so exciting to Gary. “To anyone who has never had a test score delivered via a sheet of paper, they don’t even have that in mind.”

Something that Gary has focused a lot of energy on during his time at Mozilla is privacy. “It’s a concern mostly because there’s no transparency,” he told me, which in the context of the recent NSA and PRISM news is quite accurate. The challenge around privacy in bringing the next billion users online is to enable them to have control. “Tools are being developed, and there will be ways for them to have a much better privacy experience from the start,” Gary said.

gary kovacs
Gary Kovacs at Mobile World Congress

Another topic we discussed was the open web. “It must be open and available for all to participate,” he said. “The next two billion people can’t be forced to go online in a way that advantages one commercial organization over another.” Gary mentioned the history we’ve been through with AOL, and noted that in the world of mobile today we’re forced to essentially choose one of two centrally planned economies. “One or two organizations cannot possibly keep up with the millions of requests of human innovation,” he said.

Lastly, I wanted to ask Gary what advice he’d give to startups. “Big organizations innovate at the centre of the bell curve,” he said. “Startups are magically placed to innovate at the edges.” For Gary, the next two billion people coming online is an incredible opportunity for startups. “Look beyond the boundaries of where you live,” he advised. Startups are able to have an impact in areas that simply cannot be contemplated by larger organizations. “Also think in terms of systems,” he added. “We should no longer think of mobile as a device or an app, that wave of innovation has occurred; the next wave is when anything is connected.”

Very exciting times ahead indeed! This is just a small snapshot of the things you’ll hear discussed at AccelerateAB in Calgary next month. The conference takes place on July 11, and tickets are just $30. You’ve got until July 2 to register, so get on it! You can check out the schedule here.

The other thing happening in conjunction with AccelerateAB is Alberta Tech Week. All week long there will be interesting tech events taking place, and you can submit your own if you’d like to get involved. It’s going to be a great week to connect with tech entrepreneurs from across the province!

Recap: Intersect – a collision of artists and geeks!

Sharon and I walked down the street to Startup Edmonton for the first ever Intersect event on Friday evening. I had heard Ken talk about the concept in the past, so I had some idea of what to expect. Think DemoCamp, but with artists showcasing their work rather than software developers! Here’s how the event was officially described:

A collision of technical and creative minds, Intersect is a new event that puts geeks and artists on stage to show off projects that merge the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, and other creative fields. A fun way to support artists and creators in our community, Intersect will inspire constructive conversations and interactions around concepts, demos, samples and prototypes being created in Edmonton.

Intersect

We arrived shortly after the advertised start time of 7pm and found the third floor of the Mercer Warehouse buzzing. A couple dozen people were enjoying the DJ and the bar and we could see projects setup all around the room. Startup Edmonton teamed up with Megan & Beth Dart, the sister duo behind Catch the Keys Productions, to curate projects for the event. They ended up with five, in order of introduction:

  • Scott Smallwood

    Scott Smallwood is a sound artist, composer, and sound performer who creates works inspired by discovered textures and forms, through a practice of listening, field recording, and sonic improvisation. He also designs experimental electronic instruments and software, as well as sound installations and site-specific performance scenarios. Scott has been active as an educator for over 15 years, teaching composition, improvisation, and electroacoustic music at the University of Alberta.

  • Good Women Dance Society 

    Good Women Dance Society is a creation-based company that is committed to helping create a vibrant and sustainable contemporary dance community in Edmonton. The society’s artistic focus is on creating and producing innovative new works with integrity and conviction.

  • Owen Brierley, GURU Digital Arts Collective

    Owen is the Executive Director of Guru Digital Arts College. Over the past 14 years Owen has worked with, taught and worked for many of Edmonton’s top talent in digital media. From Project Director for a Serious Game in the oil and gas sector to Lego trivia interactives for the Telus World of Science, Owen has had the pleasure of exploring almost every form of interactive digital media production.

  • Technitone 

    Built by local interactive firm gskinner.com to showcase Google Chrome, Technitone is an interactive web audio experience that lets you join other creators to plot tones on a grid, construct melodies, and modify the output with a robust toolset of effects. Technitone packs a few neat extras, too, such as a solo mode for those who like more control, and a gallery where you can publish your masterpieces, whether made on your own or with a group.

  • ShowStages Collective 

    ShowStages is a video and design collective. We build narratives through projected media and interactive audio-visual experiences. We work in theatre and new media.

Though it felt like a mixer at first, we soon discovered there was a program for the event! Hosts Omar Mouallem and Julian Faid introduced each project, and then the artist behind it had a few minutes to talk about it. We went around the room from one project to the next, which was a nice change from the stay-seated approach of DemoCamp. After each project had been showcased, the event reverted back to the mixer-like atmosphere and attendees were free to seek out more information from the artists.

Intersect

I had already seen Technitone – Grant had demoed it a year ago at DemoCamp Edmonton 18 – but it was neat to see it again with big displays. The performance by GWDS was really impressive and utilized FaceTime (I think) to incorporate an interesting visual perspective. At one point the dancer, I believe it was Ainsley Hillyard, created a sort of infinity effect (like you might do with mirrors).

Intersect

Intersect

I thought Owen’s project, which if I understand correctly involved positioning video displays using software, was pretty neat. You could create some pretty cool installations with the approach! Scott’s work with sound was fascinating to learn about. I’m not sure if it is still active, but I can totally understand why Scott would be the guy behind Dorkbot Edmonton. Unfortunately Elijah had a few technical difficulties, but he still did a good job of demoing what ShowStages can do. I love that they use a Kinect plugged into a MacBook!

Intersect

I really enjoyed Intersect, and I do hope it becomes a regular series! I’m sure there are many more interesting collisions of art and technology taking place in our city. Kudos to Startup Edmonton and Catch the Keys on a successful first event!

Intersect

You can see the rest of my photos from the evening here.

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 21

Edmonton’s 21st DemoCamp took place tonight at the Telus Centre on the University of Alberta campus. DemoCamp brings together developers, creatives, entrepreneurs, and investors to share what they’ve been working on with the local tech community. Tonight’s audience seemed to be filled predominately with first-timers!

We had five demos tonight. In order of appearance:

  • Opening the show was David Nedohin and Graham from Scope Technologies. They build augmented reality training systems. Tonight they demoed a pretty slick augmented reality training app for a pump assembly. Using a pair of Epson Moverio glasses outfitted with a camera, we were able to see everything David saw as he followed the on-display instructions. The app supports three modes: observe (learn what you’re supposed to do), execute (do it), and record (for auditing purposes). It of course drew comparisons to Google Glass, though the key offering here is the 3D overlay training solution, not the hardware.
  • Next up was Nolan Smits who showed us Nutrsync, a project he has been working on for the last nine months or so. After Nolan took a greater interest in his own health, he decided an app to track nutrients would be useful and he set out to build it. Written in PHP with lots of jQuery, it’s a slick looking app even if it is missing a few features still. You can quickly see how much of each nutrient you’ve eaten, and it’ll suggest foods to fill up on the ones you’re missing. For me the biggest challenge is the same as every food-tracking app: unless you’re eating pre-packaged brand name meals or fast food, it’s too much of a pain to input what you’re eating!
  • Third tonight was Ric Williams from Hungry Moose Games who demoed their new effort called 9 Lives: Casey and Sphynx. One of the neat things about Hungry Moose is that it’s a mashup of local talent, including some ex-BioWare guys and Ric who was with Empire Avenue (and was inspired the guys who built Life Goes On, demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 18). The highlight of the work-in-progress demo was that the game was built with Unity and was running on a Kindle Fire HD, controlled with a Green Throttle Bluetooth controller. “The $60 game and $125 million investment is going the way of the dodo,” Ric told us, explaining the upheaval taking place in the gaming industry right now.
  • Next up was David Quail and Tim Fletcher who demoed Zenlike. They’re hoping to save users time by utilizing machine learning and natural language processing to automate mundane, boring tasks. Their first area of focus is meeting scheduling. You simply CC your “virtual assistant” on an email thread to setup a meeting, and it parses out the details and sets up the calendar entry and invites (kind of like the way TripIt automagically parses out your itinerary). It was really slick to see in action (it’s a combination of Mechanical Turk and algorithms). I look forward to the day when my devices just know what I want to do and do it.
  • The final demo of the evening was from Ben Zittlau and Greg Bell. They showed us a new Mover.io feature called Clonr. The idea is pretty simple: magically move things from one place to another! They’ve decided to focus on WordPress to start, and tonight they demoed the ability to completely move a WordPress site from one server to another with basically a single click. They support DreamHost, 1and1, HostGator, as well as plain old FTP, and they’ll move beyond WordPress to other platforms once they’ve got a bit more functionality in place. There’s a massive market for this kind of thing!

DemoCamp Edmonton 21
David Nedohin showing us the augmented reality demo

It was another solid night of demos, so well done to all the demoers! I think my favorite was probably Zenlike, because I can see the trajectory they’re on and it’s thrilling. I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords. I think there’s no question that Clonr is going to be a big success for the Mover guys, and I’m looking forward to seeing that tool evolve.

Some of the announcements made tonight include:

  • Edmonton now has a Python Meetup Group! They’re planning to meet on the second Monday of each month.
  • TEDxEdmonton 2013 is coming up on June 15. Tickets are on sale now, and some of the presenters have been announced!
  • Ready to build something? Startup Weekend returns to Edmonton on April 26.
  • I hope you see you on Friday at the new Intersect event, billed as a collision of artists and geeks.

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for the Startup Edmonton newsletter to keep up-to-date on future events (you can also join the Meetup group).

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 22!

Talking open data in Edmonton with Minister Tony Clement

Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board of Canada, was in Edmonton today as part of a cross-country tour to gather feedback from the Open Data community. The federal government is preparing to launch a revamped Open Data Portal, and Minister Clement has been given the mandate to make it happen. After stops in the morning at Startup Edmonton and TEC Edmonton, Minister Clement was at City Hall for an Open Data Roundtable, hosted by the one and only David Eaves.

"Open Data is a global movement that is really gaining momentum across the country. Our Government wants to ensure we are making it as accessible as possible so that innovators and enthusiasts can harness this rich resource," said Minister Clement. "We are getting ready to unveil the next generation Open Data Portal and the input we received from Edmonton’s vibrant Open Data community will help us build a user-friendly site that will allow users to capitalize on this opportunity."

In addition to holding face-to-face meetings, Minister Clement also hosted a Google Hangout on Open Data last month. You can watch the whole thing here:

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the roundtable today, along with roughly two-dozen other Edmontonians interested in open data. We had a very limited amount of time to chat, but I think we still discussed a wide range of topics. I hope the information gathered was indeed valuable for the team in charge of the new portal.

As host, David organized our time around a series of questions. The first was to suggest ideas for what the next generation open data portal should be. We broke into small groups and then shared ideas back with the larger group.

The first thing I suggested was that it should not look like it was designed in 1995. I find all of the Government of Canada websites lacking in the aesthetics department! Certainly there’s something to be said for consistency, and I understand there’s an initiative underway to reimagine the entire GoC web presence. On the flip side of consistency though are the preconceptions that you may not want to be carried forward. If I look at the Open Data Portal today, it looks like every other government site, which makes me think it’ll be a mess of weird hierarchies and PDFs buried away. It’s not very welcoming or inviting!

Another theme was based around the idea that we can’t build a data portal that serves all possible audiences. But, we can do more than we are currently. So my group discussed the idea of intent-based profiles. The idea is you’d login, set some criteria like whether you’re a developer or not, and maybe your location, and the portal would then give you a personalized view. Of course, anonymous access should be preserved, so it shouldn’t be a requirement that you need to login.

Three other themes that emerged included: historical data and the realization that any data we create now will at some point become historical, articulated well by Heather and Maureen; the notion that the portal should facilitate the two-way movement of data, so that citizens can publish data into the catalogue as well as get data out of it; and the fact that documentation about data is important, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be created top-down.

The second question was related to datasets, both specific datasets that we’d like, but also criteria that make datasets valuable and/or interesting. The first thing that came to mind for me was geography. I’d love to be able to see all of the datasets related to Edmonton, or to municipalities, or to Alberta, or to provinces. Right now you have to really hunt to find datasets that compare cities, for instance.

I think Matt‘s two suggestions in response this question were spot on. The first was that the data he finds interesting is the data that makes the government uncomfortable. Minister Clement jumped in to assure us that there’s no conspiracy preventing certain datasets from being released. That would suggest a level of organization that most governments just don’t have, he joked. The second suggestion was that geographical data should be a key foundational dataset. Let’s see a base map of the country, zoomable to the neighbourhood level. Or to whatever smaller regions exist, whether it’s postal code, census district, garbage collection zone, or something else. I love this idea, and my only add-on suggestion was that geographical data doesn’t necessarily have to mean maps. Knowing the list of neighbourhoods or postal codes can be incredibly valuable outside of a map as well.

A few other themes that emerged about datasets were trends and historical data (I personally love the idea of a revision history for any datasets), some sort of metadata (the first dataset any portal should have is the list of datasets it contains, David suggested), and the notion of a data management plan.

We finished up the roundtable with a brief discussion on data standards, followed by a few minutes of open time. I spoke up on data standards along with Ben and Eugene, and suggested that data standards fall squarely under the "nice to have" category. It would be great if different datasets shared a common format, but we’d rather just have the data and worry about the differences with an abstraction layer.

Final thoughts mentioned by the group included dogfooding (the government should actively use its own data portal and datasets), the idea that everyone carries a phone and could be contributing data back into the catalogue, and the future world described by Devin that I think can be summarized as the Internet of Things. "The idea that we searched a catalogue of datasets will seem just as quaint as when we searched the web using Lycos," he said.

I really enjoyed the roundtable today, and I appreciate Minister Clement and David Eaves taking the time to listen to what we had to say. Thanks also to Chris and Ashley from the City for providing the venue and helping to facilitate.

Reflecting on it now, I think what I enjoyed most about the roundtable was the opportunity to chat with people in the local open data community. I haven’t given open data as much public attention lately as I should, and when you shift your gaze elsewhere it’s easy to miss all of the incredible people doing great things.

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 20

Tonight was Edmonton’s 20th DemoCamp, a pretty great milestone for an event that began back in early 2008. The event still manages to attract both new and familiar faces, which makes it a great opportunity to connect with others in the community. We had a really strong turnout tonight and a very solid lineup of interesting demos.

Tonight’s event was held at the Telus Centre on the University of Alberta campus, and featured six demos (in order of appearance):

  • Dan Haight showed us the EMS analytics application that Darkhorse Analytics has built. It runs on an iPad and provides emergency services professionals with insights into the data they already collect (every time you call 911, that information is recorded, along with response times, lat longs, hospital information, etc). The app is very attractive and the UX seems really intuitive. It could easily be adapted to markets other than EMS as well.
  • Next up was Gezim Hoxha who showed us Team Do List, a super simple task list sharing application. With a focus on simplicity the app doesn’t let you do much more than create a list and add tasks to it, but that’s the idea. You don’t even need to create an account to create a task list, you can just start adding tasks. When you’re done, you can share them via email or SMS.
  • Neil Lamoureux was up third and he showed us CodeBaby’s suite of tools for creating intelligent virtual assistants. I have to say, it looked a little too good to be true! In just a matter of minutes, Neil had created an animated, lip-synced virtual assistant for TD Insurance, it was really impressive. The application features a friendly drag & drop interface, and includes the ability to preview an assistant on a live site without making any code changes. Very slick!
  • Our fourth demo was from Ashley & Dana Janssen and Matt Riemer who showed us Tradetacular, a platform for trading Magic: The Gathering cards online. I thought they did a good job of showing us why Tradetacular is better than the alternatives that already exist. I also really enjoyed the fact that they had multiple accounts and browsers setup and open to facilitate demoing a trade. While they are focused on Magic: The Gathering right now there is no reason that Tradetacular couldn’t be used for other collectibles in the future. They’re on to something!
  • Jeff Marvin was up next to show us BioWare’s N7 HQ, an online companion site for the popular Mass Effect 3 game. The site lets players track challenges and awards, view characters, inventory, and leaderboards, and explore profiles of other players. I was hoping for a little less talk and a bit more demo, but it was interesting to gain some insight into a big company like BioWare.
  • Our final demo of the night was from Sam Jenkins and Estyn Edwards who showed us WellNext, an interactive service that helps organizations implement employee wellness and engagement programs. Tonight they focused on a specific integration they built that uses data from a blood test to provide insight into how healthy an individual is, and then provides the organization with an aggregated view of the health of their employees. It was really neat to see it in action!

I think most people in the audience were impressed by how smoothly all of the demos went tonight, so great job to all of the demoers! I’m a sucker for analytics, so I really enjoyed Darkhorse’s demo. But we’ve seen them at DemoCamp before, so I’m going to go with Tradetacular as my favorite of the night, followed closely by WellNext. I loved the attention to detail in both, as well as the confidence in how to address their respective markets. Also, as Cam mentioned, the Tradetacular demo was really well done:

Some of the announcements from the event include:

DemoCamp Edmonton 20

This being a milestone event, I thought some of you might like to go back in time and revisit our past events, so here are my recaps and links for all 113 demos:

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 21!

The Edmonton Oilers look to gain an edge with analytics & hackathons

The Edmonton Oilers are mining for gold, and they want you to help them do it.

Last Thursday they launched the Oilers Hackathon 2.0, an analytics competition that hopes to harness the collective intelligence and passion of Oilers fans to surface valuable information that could ultimately help to improve the team.

The Oilers challenge for Oil Country in the newly launched Hackathon 2.0 is to conjure up the proper methodology to solve one of four questions the team’s analytics group has created. Naturally you’ll need the statistical information to back-up your formula and that’s why the Oilers are opening their information vault to anyone with an analytical mind and a love of hockey.

The hackathon is a great opportunity for math-geeks-slash-hockey-fans to engage with the team in a different way. But as Kevin Lowe told me when we discussed the competition, it’s also a recognition that having data is just part of the puzzle. “It’s all find and dandy to have the data, but it’s what you do with it that matters.” The Oilers no doubt have some ideas about what to do with it, but they know others do as well.

oilers hackathon

This idea of tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd” is hardly new, and one of my favorite stories on the topic comes from Don Tapscott’s book Wikinomics. In the first chapter, he tells the story of Goldcorp Inc. and the decision by its CEO Rob McEwan to tap into the expertise outside his organization. McEwan told his head geologist the idea: “I’d like to take all of our geology, all the data we have that goes back to 1948, and put it into a file and share it with the world. Then we’ll ask the world to tell us where we’re going to find the next six million ounces of gold.”

It was a gamble, but with the company struggling McEwan was determined to try something different. The “Goldcorp Challenge” was launched in March 2000 with $575,000 in prize money available. The contest was a big success, as Tapscott explained. “Not only did the contest yield copious quantities of gold, it catapulted his underperforming $100 million company into a $9 billion juggernaut while transforming a backward mining site in Northern Ontario into one of the most innovative and profitable properties in the industry,” he wrote.

The use of statistical analysis in sports is not new either, and thanks to Moneyball many people have at least heard about analytics being applied to baseball. Though he is most often associated with politics these days, New York Times writer Nate Silver actually got his start with baseball. “I have been a fan of baseball – and baseball statistics – for as long as I can remember,” he wrote in his book The Signal and the Noise. He started creating statistics for the game when he was just twelve, and while working at KPMG he created PECOTA, a forecasting system for baseball player performance. There are good reasons that baseball has been at the forefront of analytics, as Silver explains:

“Baseball offers perhaps the world’s richest data set: pretty much everything that has happened on a major-league playing field in the past 140 years has been dutifully and accurately recorded, and hundreds of players play in the big leads every year.”

While baseball is a team sport, it is unlike hockey or basketball or most other team sports in that it proceeds in a linear fashion. You could argue that a batter or pitcher in baseball is more responsible for his or her own performance than a forward is in hockey. It’s therefore a little easier to test empirically a hypothesis in baseball than it is in hockey.

Still, that hasn’t deterred NHL teams from delving into the world of analytics (though there have certainly been ups and downs over the years). David Staples, a guest of the Oilers Analytics Working Group (AWG), wrote about its creation back in March:

Some pro hockey bosses have little time for “Moneypuck,” the notion that NHL teams can use advanced statistics to gain an advantage. Others are more open to this cutting edge work. But there’s no doubt that interest in the field is exploding.

The Oilers formed the AWG a little over a year ago as a result of an advisory group on analytics coordinated by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension. Members of the AWG include Kevin Lowe, Nick Wilson, and a number of other members of the Oilers operations team, Cult of Hockey blogger Bruce McCurdy, University of Alberta professors Corey Wentzell and Bruce Matichuk, AICML’s Randy Goebel, and Daniel Haight of Darkhorse Analytics. The group meets monthly, though someone is looking at the data almost every day. The Oilers have purchased reports and other sources of data in the past, but with the AWG, they’re considering data and analytics more aggressively. They see hackathons as a key way to extract value from all of the data.

The Hackathon 2.0 offers anyone who is interested the chance to delve into more than 1 GB of CSV data going all the way back to 1918. That’s 1 GB of pure text, roughly equivalent to 1000 thick books, and much more than was available during the first hackathon. For a data geek like myself, it’s pretty exciting. Hardcore hockey fans also seem to like the idea. “This is entirely fascinating. I cannot believe it’s really happening,” wrote Justin Bourne on theScore’s blog. Some have even started analyzing the data. Not everyone is as optimistic, however. Well-known Oilers blogger Tyler Dellow wrote, “while I applaud the effort, I’m not really sure that I think they’re going to get a whole lot that’s useful out of it.”

My sense after talking to Kevin Lowe and Nick Wilson about the hackathon is that they are realistic about the potential for data analytics. “It’s about knowing where to spend your time and resources,” Kevin said. “The findings are not earth shattering, but it’s a little bit of knowledge that you can hand over to the coach that at the right moment he can use, or so that he has more confidence in his decisions.” Nick agreed. “It’s a two or three percent contribution, like everything else.”

That said, there is some optimism that a fan will come up with something the Oilers just haven’t thought of, with some nugget of gold. “What’s unique about math applied to sports is the undiscovered, the lingering moneyball,” Nick said. “There’s incredible fans, incredible intelligence in this city,” Kevin agreed.

A total of 400 entrants had registered for the hackathon as of this morning. If you want to participate, you’d better move quickly – the deadline to register is tomorrow. After filling out the form, you’ll receive an email with a link to download the data. From there you’ll have until February 15 to submit your methodology for answering four challenges set forth by the Oilers AWG. You can see the full contest details here.

If you don’t get the opportunity to participate this time, don’t worry, the Oilers are keen to do additional hackathons in the future. “It’s not a one-off, and we definitely want to do more,” Nick told me. That’s probably a good strategy, given that new data is available all the time. As technology improves, you can imagine all sorts of new statistics being tracked. For example, cameras could help to track the number of strides a player takes per shift, or the number of times he pivots on the ice.

I’m planning to participate in the hackathon, though for me it’ll be more for fun than anything. I have already enlisted the help of my Dad who is a much bigger hockey fan than I am, based on some advice from Nate Silver: “Statistical inferences are much stronger when backed up by theory or at least some deeper thinking about their root causes.” In other words, it helps to know a thing or two about hockey!

Preview: Launch Party Edmonton 3

startup edmontonNext Thursday evening, Edmonton’s third Launch Party will take place at Startup Edmonton. It’s an opportunity to mix and mingle with some of the city’s most interesting entrepreneurs, creators, and developers. The focus is on ten startups that have risen up over the last year or so and are now ready for the next stage. There are no formal presentations or panels, but there will be drinks, demos, and DJs! You can see my recap of Launch Party 2 here.

Here’s what you need to know about each startup.

GeniePad
TWO WORDS: Condo Communication
WHAT: “GeniePad is a communication portal for condominiums, condo boards, homeowners associations, and property management companies. With GeniePad you can simply and easily deliver news, share documents, buy and sell goods within your building’s community, provide your residents with a tool to communicate with the condo board, homeowners association, property management and other residents electronically, making it quick and efficient.”
KEY PEOPLE: Rafal Dyrda of Flame360 Inc., also co-founded PartsBazaar.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 15.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m a big fan of the product (my condo building uses it). GeniePad solves problems that all large residential buildings have, and it does so with an attractive, easy-to-use, cost-effective web app. With 130 properties already using the product (which they found largely through word-of-mouth), GeniePad is off to a great start.

Granify
TWO WORDS: Shopping Analytics
WHAT: “Granify is an Edmonton-based company backed by several of the strongest venture capital firms in Canada and the US. We’re at the intersection of artificial intelligence and e-commerce, providing a SaaS solution that enables online retailers to maximize their sales by using cutting edge big data and machine learning technologies. We’re a small but growing team of eager entrepreneurial individuals that enjoy working in a fun, creative, and agile environment.”
KEY PEOPLE: Jeff Lawrence, founder of Bloro Games and Precision Targeting; Lihang Ying, architect at the City of Edmonton working on 311 and Open Data; and Shawn Wan, formerly of Tynt.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Member of Extreme Startups’ first cohort earlier this year.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Granify has already received a significant amount of investment from some very seasoned investors, so that’s a good sign. Big data is an increasingly growing area of interest for many people, and Granify seems well-positioned to make a play in the e-commerce segment of that space.

Jobber
TWO WORDS: Business Management
WHAT: “Jobber is a cloud based mobile-capable business management system for field service companies. Landscapers, painters, cleaning companies, contractors and many other service professionals are getting organized, saving time and earning more using Jobber to power their administrative back end, and to close the information loop with their employees in the field.”
KEY PEOPLE: Sam Pillar and Forrest Zeisler.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 15.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I ran a painting franchise one summer and I could definitely have used Jobber back then! With a rich set of features, competitive pricing, and a giant market of small service companies, it’s no surprise that Jobber has attracted Boris Wertz and Point Nine Capital as investors.

LoginRadius
TWO WORDS: Social Login
WHAT: “LoginRadius is Software as a Service (SaaS) that provides social infrastructure to help businesses grow through the power of social media, improving the ease and efficiency of online identity management. Using LoginRadius, website owners can allow their users to log in with existing accounts on Live, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and over 20 more providers. Social Login eliminates the annoying registration process that all online users have come to dread and not only attracts more traffic to a website but also boosts its user base.”
KEY PEOPLE: Rakesh Soni, who did his MSc in Engineering at the University of Alberta.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 19.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: LoginRadius has partnerships with Mozilla, Microsoft’s BizSpark, DynDNS, and X-Card, and already has 22,000 customers according to Business in Edmonton magazine. Social plugins are all the rage, and LoginRadius makes it easy to add them to your website with the added bonus of gathering data for social analytics.

Monogram
TWO WORDS: Instagram Profiles
WHAT: “Monogram is a web service that helps users create simple online profiles. We create custom plugins that use API’s from popular tools and social networks to give users a deep amount of customization with little effort. We currently only offer profiles for Instagram – but we plan to roll out new profiles in the new year.”
KEY PEOPLE: Brandon Webber, Tim Fletcher, and Adrian Gyuricska, all from Lift Interactive.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 19.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: During the demo back in September, Brandon and Tim emphasized that supporting services beyond Instagram was important. Well three days ago Instagram launched their own web profiles. Monogram plans to support SoundCloud, Vimeo, and Etsy among other services. While there’s definitely a market for beautifully designed, premium profiles, it is a busy space with about.me and many others. They’ll have to focus on quality and service.

Mover
TWO WORDS: Cloud Storage
WHAT: “These days most consumers are using, or starting to use, cloud storage. This means that files are now in Dropbox, or Google, or somewhere other than their computers. Mover uncomplicates the process for software developers to work with cloud storage. Using Mover, any app, product, or service can easily interact with cloud storage providers like Box, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft SkyDrive. Mover provides a great application programming interface (API) for software developers. The process of authorizing, downloading, and uploading files from any cloud storage provider is identical using Mover, whereas the old way of doing things was a long and arduous process.”
KEY PEOPLE: Eric Warnke, co-founder of Mesh Canada, former Nexopia employee; Mark Fossen, co-founder of Mesh Canada, former ThinkTel employee; and Ben Zittlau, creator of Alertzy and co-founder of Firenest.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 18 as Backup Box.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Dropbox is the poster child of cloud storage, but it is just one of many options. SkyDrive (my favorite), Box, Amazon S3, Windows Azure, and Google Drive are just a few of the other big players. Moving data from one to another is going to become increasingly important, and Mover helps make it easy. Their slogan of “one API for the cloud” is a lofty but potentially lucrative promise.

PlanHero
TWO WORDS: Event Planning
WHAT: “PlanHero makes planning social group trips easy and stress free. We take the chaos out of planning group trips while making sure everyone pays the planner on time. PlanHero makes communicating efficient, allow you to poll your friends to help decide what, when and where to go and help everyone book their trip like a pro. Planners set up basic trip information and any questions they want the group to decide on in no time, meaning less time arguing and reading email chains and more time getting the trip of a lifetime happening.”
KEY PEOPLE: Dave Chmiel; Kyle Huberman, CEO of Pixel Designs; and Richard Aberefa.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 18.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Even with an ever-growing list of online tools, coordinating group events (especially those that require payment) is still a pain. That’s the problem that PlanHero hopes to address, utilizing Facebook for easy social connectivity. They may need to focus on a specific niche to start (ski trips, for instance) but the service is slick and easy-to-use.

Poppy Barley
TWO WORDS: Custom Boots
WHAT: “Poppy Barley will revolutionize the way women buy footwear. Mass-manufactured footwear only considers one measurement – foot length and as a result over 60% of women struggle to find boots that fit. Motivated by the promise of fit and brilliance of bespoke, Poppy Barley makes it possible for women to design their ideal pair of boots and self-measure their feet, ankles and legs in 5 minutes. Poppy Barley makes the luxury of made to measure boots attainable for the first time by a business model delivered entirely online with no middlemen and layers of markups.” 
KEY PEOPLE: Justine Barber and her sister Kendall Barber, editor & founder of City & Dale.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Featured in the Edmonton Journal on September 13.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Purchasing clothing or shoes online is always difficult because of the sizing issue. Will it fit? You never know. Add to that the fact that everyone’s fit is slightly different, and you have a solid use case for Poppy Barley (it also seems more likely to take off than something like Pedpad, which requires a hardware device to measure). The sisters have done their homework and they’ve already inked a number of key partnerships. Oh, and they definitely know fashion!

Sendioso
TWO WORDS: Gift Certificates
WHAT: “Sendioso is an online community where people share their favourite local shops and buy and send gift certificates immediately via email or mobile phone. Anyone can visit Sendioso.com, view their friends’ favourite places, buy a gift certificate from any Sendioso merchant, and then send it to anyone, at any time. We want our audience to have fun gifting, sharing and visiting Sendioso stores — maybe for the first time.”
KEY PEOPLE: Jeremy Payne and Lisa Hryniw.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’ll admit I don’t know much about Sendioso, but the idea of getting gift cards for places I actually like is appealing. The services seems to have an interesting discovery angle too.

Showbie
TWO WORDS: Paperless Homework
WHAT: “Showbie unlocks the creative potential of classroom iPads with easy document sharing right from everyone’s favorite apps. Showbie makes workflow easily manageable, effective and secure. The best way to go paperless. Students, parents and teachers are thrilled with the simple but effective way of sharing assignment, projects and homework.”
KEY PEOPLE: Colin Bramm, President of Bramm Technologies and long-time entrepreneur in the education technology space. Demoed SelfChecker at DemoCamp Edmonton 9 in November 2009.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Launched on June 12, 2012 at Launch Education & Kids in Mountain View, CA.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Colin has been dabbling in the ed tech space for a while so has quite a bit of experience to draw from. The product has already been used by 400 schools around the world. Many districts are investing in iPads for schools, so the addressable market does seem to be growing.

Tickets for Launch Party 3 are $25 or $15 for students. You can get yours here.

Launch Party is just one of many exciting events celebrating entrepreneurship in Edmonton next week. Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012 kicks off on Tuesday at Startup Edmonton, and there are events planned all week long.

See you there!

TEDxEdmonton Education: Discussing the evolution of learning in the City of Learners

Hundreds of Edmontonians will gather at the Winspear Centre on Saturday for a special TEDxEdmonton event focused on learning.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, join us for a special edition of TEDxEdmonton around a conversation on how learning is evolving and impacting our schools, workplaces and industries. We’ll come together to kickstart a discussion on learning among students, educators, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, and community leaders. How do we disrupt the status quo and replace traditional approaches to learning? How do we leave the politics of education behind to focus on impact and innovation?

TEDxEdmonton Education is open to anyone interested in the topic, and will bring a number of intriguing speakers together for what should be a very inspiring day. You’ll hear from some local folks such as Ashlyn Bernier of the Graduate Students’ Association at the University of Alberta as well as some special guests from out-of-town like Stephanie Lo, Product Manager of TED’s Education initiative. The full line-up looks amazing!

tedxedmonton education

Education is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately, mainly from two perspectives: technology and cities. I’m unfortunately going to be out of town on Saturday, but I wanted to share a few thoughts in advance of the event.

Massively Open Online Courses

It’s shocking to me that we, more or less, teach the same way today as we have for centuries, despite incredible advances in technology. A teacher or professor in front of dozens of students in a classroom is typically the image that comes to mind when we talk about teaching and learning. Is that really the best we can do?

I was inspired recently by Daphne Koller’s TED Talk in which she discusses the emerging trend toward online education. She’s a co-founder of Coursera, which is one of the popular new platforms for MOOCs – massively open online courses. Coursera, edX, and other platforms are enabling a really interesting new way of learning. Instead of a few hundred students in a classroom, these online courses bring potentially hundreds of thousands of students together from all over the world. There’s still a professor and there are still lectures (delivered via video on-demand) and there are still readings, but there’s a lot that is different too. For starters, they’re free!

Here is Daphne’s talk:

I decided to take a course to experience first-hand what a MOOC is like. I signed up for the Introduction to Sustainability, taught by Jonathan Tomkin from the University of Illinois. There are lots of reasons that people might take this course – maybe they’re looking for academic credit, maybe they’re looking to advance their careers, or maybe like me they are just interested in the topic. I admit I haven’t been keeping up with the course as well as I should have, but already I have gotten a lot out of it. One of the most interesting things to me is the “How to Pass the Class” page, which states:

I recognize that this is no ordinary course. You may have different perspectives and different goals for this course than some of your peers or than I could have anticipated. Therefore, I want to empower you to customize this course to meet your needs. To this end, I have designed multiple “badges” you can earn through participation in this course.

Here’s a look at those badges:

coursera pass the course

This is great! If you want to take the “traditional” approach, you can simply do all the quizzes. But there are other options now. I like the idea of doing a project, because it provides an opportunity to really apply what you’ve learned. Most interesting of all are the forum badges – you can pass the class simply by interacting with your peers. I say simply but that’s probably not the right word because I think there’s an incredible amount of learning that can happen through that interaction. Some students have even formed in-the-flesh study groups in their cities!

I don’t know if MOOCs are the future of learning, but so far I like what I see.

City of Learners

As you may know, Edmonton has been declared a City of Learners. Through the Edmonton Learning Initiative, the City is trying to make lifelong learning a core value of our community. The initiative has adopted UNESCO’s four pillars of education:

  1. Leaning to know – understanding how we learn
  2. Learning to do – emphasis on the knowledge component of tasks
  3. Learning to live together – educate to avoid conflict or peacefully resolve it
  4. Learning to be – the complete development of the mind body, intelligence and sensitivity

These are quite broad of course, but so is learning!

Thinking about the education system more specifically, we can see from the 2012 Municipal Census that roughly 24% of Edmontonians were identified as students. Here’s the breakdown by level:

edmonton students

Edmonton has long been recognized as a leader in public education, and Edmonton Public Schools has been singled out as a model district. It’s encouraging to see achievement results that show the continued success of EPSB’s approach. I’m also a big fan of initiatives like City Hall School, which provides Grade 1-9 students with the opportunity to learn more about how the city works. It has been a big success, so perhaps we should consider expanding it to other levels? Fieldston’s City Semester in New York sounds like the kind of course I could only have dreamed about in high school.

The University of Alberta has a publicly stated goal to become one of the top 20 universities in the world by 2020, and while that sounds audacious it also seems attainable. Edmonton is fortunate to have a number of great post-secondary institutions, and we should not take that for granted. Here’s just one post on why universities matter so much:

Universities appear to function as an important social leveler. Nations with larger numbers of great universities have lower income inequality (with a negative correlation of -.475 between the two). And universities are part of the mix of institutions that lead to higher levels of happiness and well-being across societies.

There are all kinds of reasons that having strong educational institutions here in Edmonton will make our community stronger, but is education also something we could be exporting to other places? This post by Avnish on Alberta’s labour shortage proposes a really interesting idea:

In an era where governments are scaling back funding to post-secondary education, India presents itself as a lucrative opportunity. Alberta’s colleges and universities can make up funding shortfalls by expanding into India, with its large market, significant growth potential, and cheaper start-up and operating costs.

The argument is that we could tap into India’s labour pool with this approach.

One of the biggest reasons to think about education in relation to cities is the economy. Edmonton enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, hence the labour shortage referenced above. We need trained, skilled workers not only to fill the jobs we currently have available, but to create new ones too. We’re in a resource-based economy, but attracting and inventing new industries will be important for our long-term viability. It can be tempting to equate the “creative class” with education, but Richard Florida cautions against that:

The creative class is not just a proxy measure for college graduates. Roughly three-quarters of college grads in America work in creative class jobs, but four in ten members of the creative class—16.6 million workers—do not have college degrees.

They may never have been college students, but they’re absolutely learners.

There are just so many aspects of education in relation to the city that could be explored! I’ll leave you with part of Council’s declaration:

As a City of Learners, we celebrate the excellence our community has already achieved in learning, and we set our sights on even greater success for individuals, institutions, industry and our city as a whole. The challenges of a complex and competitive world demand nothing less than conceiving of learning as an organizing principle in our community.

TEDxEdmonton Education

I can’t wait to hear about all of the interesting ideas and conversations that come out of TEDxEdmonton Education this weekend! Tickets are $99 and that includes a full day pass plus lunch and snacks. The official after party is Edmonton’s fourth Timeraiser, a unique art auction where you bid in volunteer hours.

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 19

It has been so long since our last DemoCamp – number eighteen took place way back in March! A lot has happened in the interim, most notably that Startup Edmonton has completely moved into the Mercer Warehouse and it has definitely become the home of startups in our city. It’s really great to see the energy and momentum continually building! Even with all of that activity however, DemoCamp remains an important part of the ecosystem. It’s a great opportunity to see what local entrepreneurs are building and to connect with lots of people in the community.

DemoCamp Edmonton 19
Cam introducing the evening

Tonight’s event was back at the Telus Centre on the University of Alberta campus, and featured five demos (in order of appearance):

  • Patrick Pilarski from the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning (AICML) kicked things off with a very cool demo that involved a robot! He leads the organization’s Adaptive Prosthetics Project, which is focused on creating intelligent artificial limbs for amputees. In the demo he used sensors on his own arm to control the arms of a small robot, but also to train the algorithm. This video probably explains it better than I can – it’s so great that we have stuff like this happening in Edmonton:

  • Tim Tuxworth was up next to show us Go-Taxi. This was the first demo that I can remember to feature a live Skype video call as Tim called a taxi driver to help with the demo! Unfortunately he ran into some technical issues, but I think everyone got the idea. The app helps taxi companies manage requests, and helps clients book a taxi and see its current location on a map. It’s a neat idea!
  • Next up we had Brandon Webber and Tim Fletcher who demoed Monogram. Essentially it provides a public profile on the web for Instagram users, but that’s just the start. Eventually Monogram will support other services like Vimeo, SoundCloud, and Etsy. It’s a very beautifully designed tool! With Instagram working on a web presence though, they’ll need to get some other services supported quickly.
  • Our penultimate demo was by Rakesh Soni who showed us LoginRadius. It’s a suite of products that help businesses integrate “social infrastructure” such as login, analytics, and sharing. The idea is that LoginRadius is easier to integrate than all of the various social networking APIs, so you as the developer only have to learn one thing. I was happy to hear it was built with .NET and runs on Azure!
  • The duo of Sean Solbak and Shawn Sidoruk had the final demo of the evening, DibsIn. It’s a mobile app that allows shoppers to view a list of deals in the area. So if you’re downtown, you might see a deal at That Hat. When you redeem a deal, you get to spin a virtual “Price is Right” wheel to determine the exact amount of the discount. It’s pretty slick, and they have over 20 local merchants participating already!

I’m a fan of diving straight into the demo, so I could have done without some of the preamble and intro video stuff that went on tonight, but I think the demos went pretty well for the most part. Kudos to the audience for asking some great questions tonight! I also want to give props to Monogram and DibsIn because both feature “Made in Edmonton” on their websites!

DemoCamp Edmonton 19DemoCamp Edmonton 19

There were a bunch of announcements throughout the evening about some cool stuff coming up:

  • Startup Edmonton has a number of courses coming up. Everybody Can Code runs on Monday evenings throughout October, for instance. Check out the full list here.
  • Edmonton Girl Geek Dinners will have another event coming up soon – stay tuned to their Twitter feed for details!
  • The fall session of Preflight for Tech Startups begins on October 1st.
  • TEDxEdmonton Education takes place on October 13 at the Winspear Centre. It’s going to be an amazing day full of discussion about how learning is impacting our schools, workplaces and industries.
  • Registration is now open for WordCamp Edmonton 2012! This year’s event runs November 16-17.
  • It seems like there’s always something interesting happening in the Startup Edmonton space. Check the calendar for more events!

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 20!