Wyoming Team Earns First Place in Google GovDev Challenge

Our GovDev Challenge Prototype


Google’s own post about the challenge, with video, is now up on their Enterprise blog.

The GovDev Challenge

This past weekend, I had the fun and honor of participating in the first-ever Google GovDev Challenge. The 24-hour coding competition was created to explore ways modern technology could be used to transform government’s interaction with its citizens. It was a blast. And, oh BTW, my team earned first place in one of the challenges!

The competition was co-sponsored by the states of Wyoming and Colorado, both of which have active partnerships with Google in many areas. In fact, the state of Wyoming was the first state to ever convert its whole IT infrastructure to Google Apps. The three challenges focused on state-specific issues. Two were posed by Colorado, seeking better ways to help citizens in the event of another disaster of the magnitude of last fall’s Boulder floods.

Wyoming posed a Budget Transparency challenge. The state wants to make state budgeting and spending data available to all citizens and, in fact, has existing web interfaces available that do just that. But the current interfaces generally share the problem that the data is available but not very consumable — that is, the resulting grid-of-rows is hard to understand and digest. Continue Reading →

Facebook for marketers and other humans

Late last year I signed up to get email updates from the Pew Research Center. I get an email a week from them with 4-5 quick summaries. I usually find at least one item to click on and learn more about. This week, it was Facebook, which I am continually trying to understand and use better.

Demonstrating that even the Pew folks are always trying to increase readership, the title of the piece includes a number, which is said to boost click-throughs substantially: 6 New Facts About Facebook 

It’s a quick read, so I encourage you to scan it yourself. A few of the ‘facts’ struck me to me as having implications for marketers:

  • The extent to which Facebook users prefer to see photos and videos instead of straight text updates. (Fact #2)
  • The increased network effect when using Facebook to reach younger people versus older people. At the bottom of Fact #3, there is a remarkable stat: “Younger users tend to have significantly larger friend networks than older users: 27% of 18-29 year old Facebook users have more than 500 friends in their network, while 72% of users age 65+ have 100 friends or fewer.”
  • How people prefer to like or comment-on someone else’s content versus updating their own status or, even, wanting feedback on the content they do post. Even in a Facebook world, the majority of us are still lurkers at heart. (Fact #5)

And, perhaps not useful, but certainly interesting, Fact #6: “Half of internet users who do not use Facebook themselves live with someone who does.”

Triple Play lives again through print on demand

Triple Play proof copy

The first proof copy of the Elizabeth Gunn’s re-issued Triple Play paperback arrived in the mail earlier this week.

As readers of this blog may have noticed before, I’m rather proud of my Mom-the-novelist, Elizabeth Gunn. To date she has not ‘broken out’ and become a big name the way other regional mystery authors, such as Tony Hillerman and Archer Mayer or Wyoming’s own CJ Box and Craig Johnson, have done. But she has had 13 novels, in two different mystery series, ‘traditionally published’ in the last 17 years. Her publishers have always been conservative with their print runs but we’re pretty sure they sold every copy of her books ever printed. And that’s are remarkably achievement by any standard.

Mom, with the help of my Dad, who did the technical heavy lifting, was also a pioneer of ebook self-publishing. Continue Reading →

Lean Startups Go Mainstream

economistLogoI’ve been talking to my colleagues, around town and around the state, about the Lean Startup movement for some time. I was delighted to see The Economist get on board this week with their Tech Startups: A Cambrian moment special section. Lean Startups, aka Agile startups, focus on using new technologies to build what customers need and will use, not just what techies think would be cool to have.

The technique has its limitations, but it aims to ground innovation in the real world. And for both self-funded startups and those looking for angel or venture-capital investors, the real world is a very, very important thing to consider.

My own summary of what’s important about this approach is a slight variation on what you’ll find in some of the books:

The product of a startup is a viable business model, not a technology or, even, a solution.

And, BTW, if you don’t already have a subscription to the Economist, you might want to buy a newstand copy of the January 18th edition or just check out some of the other articles online. It’s full of interesting and even downright alarming pieces about technology, the prospects for specific jobs/professions in the next 50 years, and the promises and perils for individual prosperity of our accelerating technology revolution.

Not every issue of the Economist is as good as this one but many are. And the special sections, especially the regular quarterly one on Technology, pretty much justify the price of a subscription for me.

Self publishing: a flawed but useful overview

Guy Kawasaki's new book on self publishing#APETheBook: Buy the ebook not the softcover. Pick your chapters. Enough value to justify the price but some silly stuff to ignore.

Last month I gave a short talk to the Arizona Mystery Writers group in Tucson, Arizona. The presentation was supposed to be an overview of ebook production for self-published authors. But I ended up broadening the topic to attempt an overview of the larger process of self publishing, that is, how to target, produce, sell, and promote your own book.

One of my main themes was that authors who self-publish embark on an adventure that is much more like being a software entrepreneur than it is like being a writer. Both the technology and the markets are changing out from under you. Every day is full of too many good-ideas-that-should-be-done-right-away. The technology entrepreneur’s life is a sea of hard choices and risky trade-offs.

I thought that was a fairly original, clever idea until, late in my preparations, I came across a reference to Guy Kawasaki’s new book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book. Kawasaki and his co-author Shawn Welch not only made the same connection I did, before I did, he wrote a whole book on the topic. How’s that for embarrassing and affirming at the same time?

I didn’t have a chance to read the book before my presentation, but I did toss a reference to it into my hand-out. And I placed an order for the print edition so it would be waiting for me when I got back from Tucson. When a master entrepreneur and author arrives somewhere before you do, the only thing to do is stand back, bow respectfully, listen and learn what you can.

I bought the print edition because I was pretty sure I’d want to share the book. And, indeed, I ended up ceding right-of-first-read to Bret, who was on the cusp of publishing his own book of short stories. But now I’ve read the book, thrown the book across the room a couple of times, re-read and digested some of the good parts, stomped across the hall to Bret’s office to rant more than once, and, finally, am ready to recommend it, with reservations. Continue Reading →

Ada Lovelace Day 2013

Ada_Lovelace_Chalon_portraitThis is Ada Lovelace Day. I got the best possible reminder of that, this morning, from my dear friend Catherine Tuxbury. The folks who organize and promote this celebration encourage all of us to post today “about a woman in science, technology, engineering or maths whose achievements you admire.” And Cathy chose me for her contribution this year. I am flattered beyond belief.

This got me thinking about my own technology mentors and realizing that none of them were female.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly have had strong female role models in my life including my mom, Elizabeth Gunn. And I have learned many lessons from the women with whom I have worked over the years.

But when it comes to mentors in the field of technology, the most influential ones happen to have been men. Continue Reading →

Goal setting: update on picking five things

Goal setting progress monitoring in action!In June, I kicked off my Summer of Product with a post describing how I intended to use the Zig Ziglar / Seth Godin Pick Four goal setting program as a framework for making the transition from mostly-freelance-programming to full-time startup founder.

This was a bit of a risk, making a public declaration. I’m just not a methodical, program-following sort of person. I was afraid of embarrassing myself by having to report, about now, that I’d filled out the workbook pages for a week or so and then just let the whole thing fade away. That’s has certainly been the fate of every attempt at journalling I’ve ever made. Continue Reading →

An iBook achievement

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 2.30.27 PMApple Inc has such a gift for making small incremental achievements seem like huge victories. Our latest victory? All three of our ERG editions (English, French, and Spanish) are now for sale in the iTunes iBook marketplace.  It’s really just a small huzzah but it feels like a big deal to me.

Frankly, each of the ebook marketplaces presents its own set of challenges to the small publisher or self-published author.

Apple makes everything hard. Or, at least, it sure seems that way as you get started.  Only part of the toolset you must use to create and administer your ebooks in the iTunes marketplace is browser based.  The other part has to be installed on a local machine and that machine has to run OsX. So you have to own and use a Mac in order to publish an iBook. Doesn’t that seem just a bit narrow minded and self-serving to you? It does to me.

Most folks also have some trouble with the very strict epub validation step that Apple puts each epub file through. We did. But I have to say that the work we did to clean up the three ERGs so they would pass validation — and there was rather a lot of — also made the books more readable. I try not to complain, even about Apple, when the result is an improved product for our mutual customers. Continue Reading →

Ebook production: chaos and opportunity

Chaotic_mixingAugust was a busy month both in and out of the office. In house, we published the French Kindle edition of the ERG 2012, GMU 2012 : Guide Facile, and we successfully shepherded the English iBook edition through Apple’s tedious review process. We also learned, surprise!, that it takes at least as long for a change in the product description to get through Apple’s review process as it does the for the actual book to be reviewed. No quick fixes with Apple, ever.

Out on the road, I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with a few specialty publishers who are either currently publishing ebook editions or are evaluating that option. Along with the phone conversations I had earlier, I’ve now had a whirlwind tour of the current state-of-the-art for small publishing houses.

The good news, for readers, is that most publishers are either on-board the ebook train or making their reservations as we speak. They know their readers want ebook editions. They are finding ways to supply those editions.  And they aren’t letting marketplace or technical uncertainties hold them back.

The bad news, for publishers, is that there’s no consensus yet on a best practice for producing those ebooks.  Each publishing house has had to, essentially, put together a DIY ebook production process

In my notes from the last five specialty publishers I’ve talked with at any length, I count a total of six separate production strategies. One house has experimented with two different processes and isn’t particularly satisfied with either yet.  Another has a ‘single’ strategy but it involves separate, parallel processes for producing their Kindle and Google Play editions.

Continue Reading →

Word docx to ebook — publishing iBooks

(Fourth post in a series that begins here.)

The goal of doing the clean docx to epub conversion with Calibre, which is the topic of this series of posts, was to have an epub file worthy of submitting to the iBooks marketplace. Apple’s validator is known to be the pickiest of all the four main marketplaces (Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, and Google Play).

We’ve done all our ebook publishing, to date, in the Kindle and Nook marketplaces only. But Bret and I put our heads together recently and concluded we should start selectively publishing in the iBooks and Play marketplaces also.

It’s hard to come by market share numbers for the different ebook marketplaces. The last credible numbers I saw still had Kindle way ahead in book downloads and iBooks with a miserable 5% share. But this is a market where the tide can turn in almost an instant.

I’ve been seeing a lot of reports that the sales of dedicated reader devices (Kindle, Nook) is going down as the share of all-purpose tablets is going up. If true, much of the future growth in ebook sales will be to people using all-purpose tablets not dedicated readers.

The Kindle and Nook Reader apps are free and available for almost any device from desktop to phone. So you can, already, read your ebooks from Amazon or B&N on your iPad or Android tablet without ever having to own a Kindle or a Nook. But Bret believes that the users of iThingies, in particular, are eventually going to want an iBuying experience for their ebooks.  And I’m inclined to think he may be right. So I want to make sure the books we publish are in the right boat if the download tide does turn. Continue Reading →