Archive for the 'technology' Category

Publishing the first In 30 Minutes programming guide

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Over the past year, I have done several content experiments or expansions in the In 30 Minutes series, ranging from cooking to health and medicine. In this post, I’ll be talking about the jQuery Plugin book that my company released this month. While software has been a focus of the series since the beginning, this is the first title that gets into making software as opposed to using it. The story begins last summer. I am a long-term member of the Hacker News community, and on a thread about ebook publishing I left this comment about best practices for experimental publishing. It got 16 upvotes, which was a nice validation — I am not a hacker, but I like to be able to positively contribute to Hacker News when I can. But the thread moved out of sight, and after a few days I forgot about my comment. Six months later, I received an email out of the blue. It started:

I’ve been checking out your “30 Minutes” series and was originally inspired to write my own ebook after reading your post on HN a few months ago. I have since wrote a small 48 page guide on “jQuery Plugin Development”.  I haven’t launched it yet, just waiting for some feedback after sending it to a few friends first.

The author was Robert Duchnik, a Canadian developer who was living in Thailand. We began corresponding, and tossed around the idea of releasing a programming title as an In 30 Minutes guide. This was an interesting area to expand into. Most In 30 Minutes titles are written for mainstream audiences. They range from Melanie Pinola’s book about LinkedIn to the experimental easy Chinese recipes cookbook on the iPad authored by Shiao-jang Kung. The jQuery Plugin guide was focused on a much narrower, highly technical niche audience. Marketing to this group would be a challenge.

Moving Forward With jQuery Plugin Development In 30 Minutes

Rob’s book had some big things going for it:

  1. He’s a jQuery Plugin expert, with many years of experience in the field and the operator of Websanova, an online resource devoted to jQuery Plugins.
  2. Rob has an existing audience, via Websanova. From previous releases by Melanie and Tim Fisher (author of Windows 8 Basics In 30 Minutes), I have found that those authors who already have existing online audiences have a huge advantage right out of the gate. Not only can they turn to their fans to purchase copies and help spread the word, but by virtue of the fact that they have already interacted with the audience over time they have an innate knowledge of the problems that readers face, and what people want to know. This makes for better books and a better author/reader relationship going forward.
  3. There was already a draft manuscript. It needed some light editing and a proofreader, but otherwise it was in pretty good shape.
  4. The manuscript was short. This is an asset, as we want readers to be able to understand the topic at hand in less than 30 minutes.
  5. The market for books about jQuery plugin development had a hole. Through discussions with Rob and a quick analysis of competing titles, I determined that there is a need for this type of resource (high-quality, quick-start programming guide) on this topic, especially if it were priced right.

jQuery plugin bookThis last point is important. I am not talking about low-balling the competition. There are already lots of free online resources about how to write jQuery plugins. There are also a small number of books about jQuery plugins, but most of them are long and somewhat expensive. There was not much in the middle, in terms of length or price. This is where jQuery Plugin Development In 30 Minutes would live. Rob and I came to an agreement in January, and we moved forward with preparing the manuscript for publication. There were some new writing tools to try out, and some difficulties related to producing code blocks in Scrivener (my primary book production tool) but we established a workflow based on markdown and Github and published the title at the beginning of April. You can read the table of contents for the jQuery plugin book here. The title is available for the Kindle, iPad, Nook, and Google Play, as well as a paperback and a PDF.

Brazil’s SEED startup accelerator, and an opportunity for foreign startups

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If I were 20 years younger, and not already dedicated to In 30 Minutes guides, I would be all over this. The Minas Gerais State Government in Brazil (home of the local startup hub known as San Pedro Valley) has set up an accelerator program that is open to local or foreign startups. For teams that are accepted to SEED, the program provides living expenses, co-working space, startup capital (equity free!), and support for staying in Brazil (the announcement doesn’t state what the support is, but hopefully it involves helping with visas and other bureaucracy).

There is a deadline coming up October 17 for the next program, but there is also a late December deadline for the following session. Details are located on the official SEED website, but here are the most important elements from the announcement (I’ve also added the official infographic to the bottom of this post):

Seed capital, equity free, for each startup varies, approximately, between US$ 35,000.00 (for projects with two participants) and US$ 40,000.00 (for projects with three participants). Part will be transferred as monthly scholarships of US$ 1,000.00 for each project participant, to cover living expenses and guarantee exclusive dedication to their business while participating in the program. The remainder US$ 22,000.00 will be transferred to fund a high-potential prototype or a releasable version of a product or service.
SEED offers too exclusive mentoring program; an inspiring co-working space and connection to a global community of entrepreneurs.

Who can apply?
Participants must be 18 years or older, Brazilian or foreigners in condition to stay in Brazil for duration of the program (SEED will assist all foreign participants in meeting this condition). During their participation in the program, entrepreneurs must be willing to live in Belo Horizonte, contributing to develop the local startup ecosystem.

Startups can be from anywhere in the world and must be in an early stage, that is, planning or developing a high-potential prototype or a releasable version of a product or service

As I stated at the beginning of this post, if I were 20 years younger, I would apply in a heartbeat — and not just because Brazil and Brazilian people are so special. The financial support (no equity!) is important, as is the “cohort” experience of being with other like-minded startups from all over the world. But there’s something else: Living in a foreign country is not only a rewarding personal experience, it allows you to focus on activities and goals without the distractions and expectations of one’s home country. I spent most of my 20s living abroad, and was able to make connections and accomplish projects that never would have been possible if I had remained in Boston.

As it is, I am older now, and have a wife and school-aged kids and other obligations that prevent me from relocating to Brazil. In addition, while my In 30 Minutes venture leverages a number of e-publishing technologies to produce this Dropbox guide, a user manual for Google Drive, and the most recent release Twitter In 30 Minutes, it is not a pure tech startup, which is what SEED appears to be looking for.

The official SEED infographic contains more details:

Brazil SEED accelerator

How to downgrade Hootsuite Pro accounts

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If you’re frustrated with Hootsuite Pro, or no longer need to use the extra Hootsuite Pro features such as managing more than 5 social media accounts, you may be wondering how to downgrade Hootsuite Pro. This post explains how to do it.

A little backstory: I’ve used Hootsuite for more than three years, and signed up for Hootsuite Pro earlier this year when my business reached the stage where the free Hootsuite account was no longer enough. The In 30 Minutes series was exploding, and with new titles such as this LinkedIn user guide, I had too many social media accounts to look after. They included about five or six Twitter accounts, plus my LinkedIn profile and company page, Facebook profile, and several Facebook pages for the LinkedIn title and other In 30 Minutes guides. The $9.99 monthly price for Hootsuite Pro was worth it.

That is, until Hootsuite changed a critical feature for me and other Pro users: The social network selector. I won’t get into how it worked here, but you can read my “Hootsuite sucks” post and the follow up (“Hootsuite takes the low road, blames complaints on ‘fear of change’“).

After a week of struggling with the new user interface, I decided Hootsuite Pro was no longer worth it, and switched back to the free version of Hootsuite. Here’s how to downgrade Hootsuite Pro:

1. Click on the Settings icon in Hootsuite (which looks like a gear on the left side of the browser window) and click Accounts:

Hootsuite Settings

2. The Settings window will appear. You will see your profile information. On the right side of the pop-up, is a button that says “Downgrade”. Press it.

3. You will see your billing summary. At the bottom of the page is a tiny link that says “Downgrade to Free” (see screenshot below). Click it.

Downgrade Hootsuite Pro

4. You will be warned about the Pro features that you no longer have access to, such as 6 or more social media accounts or extra RSS feeds. Click the buttons to manage them, or go back to Hootsuite’s settings to unlink social media accounts, get rid of reports, and decouple RSS feeds.

5. You’ll have to start again at step 1. Follow the steps, and then click through the prompts that basically ask you to confirm that you want to do this:

Hootsuite Prompt

6. Click “Save And Proceed” and you’ll eventually get a confirmation that you are done … and one final prompt to give your feedback. The confirmation says that you will be pro-rated for time not used during the current billing period.

If you have problems with downgrading, or you still get billed, I suggest using Twitter to contact @hootsuite_help.

Why some startups abandon their blogs

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Startup blogs at the CIC

Company blogs often get a bad rap, and for good reason. They can come across as awkward and unnatural as the cross-functional teams that oversee their existence (“Susan, check with marketing and legal before putting that up on the blog, m’kay?”). A few firms simply reprint press releases on their “blogs”. Others severely restrict the topics that staff can blog about, or deliberately hobble discussions with the outside world (including with their customers) by turning off comments.

Even companies which “get” digital media sometimes can’t do it right. Google’s official blog posts tend to come across as milquetoast missives that have gone through multiple layers of editing and approval, and commenting is frequently disabled. Microsoft is usually more open to blogging by staff, especially when it comes to reaching out to its development partners or customers of specific product lines, but a lot of its messaging is still communicated via press release and the news media. Apple doesn’t even bother with blogs.

But the examples above refer to corporate blogs, or blogs written by employees who work for large companies. In this post, I’d like to talk about startup and small company blogs, and a big problem which afflicts a growing number of small company blogs.

Before I get to the problem, it’s important to understand a few things about startup blogs. They are different animals than their corporate cousins. Although startup blogs are sometimes written by a marketing director, they are frequently handled by the CEO or co-founders, or by a rotating cast of bloggers on staff. The blogging for In 30 Minutes guides is handled by yours truly, as well as the authors of Online Content Marketing In 30 Minutes and our new LinkedIn user guide.

Further, I generally find startup blogs to be far more informative than big company blogs. While corporate blogs will sometimes switch to show-and-tell mode with videos or step-by-step instructions, more often than not the big boys like to keep the explanations short and send prospective customers to support sites, product pages, and lead generation forms.

For readers, this makes a big difference. Startup blogs tend to have an authentic voice. They will often address market concerns in a direct way or give advice/share knowledge to attract and help new customers. There aren’t layers of editors and approvals to get something published.

Sometimes the voice on a startup blog can be brutally honest. Check out this post by Kinvey CEO Sravish Sridhar in which he gives a frank discussion of whether or not to talk about the competition. He lists his competitors — something that corporate bloggers almost never do — and further uses the opportunity to sell to potential customers of the Kinvey Backend-As-A-Service offering for mobile and tablet developers.

But startup blogs can be done poorly, too. A few years ago, as I was conducting research on startup accelerator programs, I noticed a big problem with certain startup blogs from the companies that had gone through various accelerator programs in the past: The blogs were abandoned. They hadn’t been updated in months, and in some cases, a year or more. I dug a little deeper, and found that there were various causes:

  1. The startup is so swamped that no one has time to blog
  2. The person who handled blogging left
  3. The company doesn’t appreciate the value of the blog
  4. The startup failed

To anyone who has founded or worked for a startup, the first reason is very understandable. If you’re  getting by on just four hours of sleep per night taking care of the business, blogging usually ends up on the back burner until you can find the time to do it. The typical pattern is to see spurts of activity (especially early in the life of the blog) and then long periods of inaction.

I suspect that the second and third reasons are often accompanied by a feeling that someone will eventually get around to updating the blog, so for the time being just leave it dangling.

The fourth reason may seem strange, until you consider that startups have a high chance of failure. If the hosting is still paid for and the CMS is on autopilot, the old posts will continue to face the world, like the facade of an abandoned business.

Regardless of the reason, leaving an untended or derelict blog is a major mistake. An abandoned blog  not only looks bad. It can actually call the credibility of the company into question, if the firm is still in business. It tells customers and users that the startup doesn’t care about keeping them up to date, can’t handle the workload, or maybe is distracted by something else, such as consulting, school, or another company. If it’s been more than a year since the last update, prospective customers or users may even wonder if the company is still in operation. Any doubt about the status of the company will of course result in a lower conversion rate, lost sales, or a wasted chance for building partnerships or prestige. In addition, because older content has more prominence, users and prospective customers may be left unaware of the company’s current products, features, pricing, or vision.

What are the solutions to this problem? I have suggestions tailored to the following scenarios:

Consider a company which is still in operation and understands the importance of blogging as a way to connect with customers and serve as an inbound marketing channel (among other uses). But there simply aren’t enough resources to devote to blogging. In this case, the most important thing to do is let people know what’s going on and point them to resources that can help them. Create a short post apologizing to readers and explaining that the blog won’t be updated as you work on the beta/feature X/migration/whatever.

You may also want to direct customers to resources where they can find answers (such as a support forum or customer service). Consider pointing them to alternative communications channels — such as a Twitter feed (much easier to update) or some other social networking resource that is regularly updated and/or monitored. Another trick: Start video blogging, either with a Web cam or smartphone camera. It takes less than ten minutes to create a clip, upload it/record directly to YouTube, and then embed the clip on your blog (or refer people to your YouTube channel). It’s not as fast as Twitter and may require some prep to make your office look presentable, but it’s much more efficient than blogging.

Longer term, you’ll need to figure out how blogging fits into your company’s communication and content strategies. Some companies with actual budgets bring in consultants to help them talk through these issues, or go out and get a hired gun to handle regular posts. Whatever you end up doing, don’t put off these discussions or plans for too long. It’s important for serving your customers and users, and attracting new customers/users. Schedule some time to talk about this internally or with advisors.

If the company is still in operation and doesn’t think blogging is important or necessary, my first suggestion is to reconsider. Talk with people who do it, start Googling around, or find someone who knows what they’re talking about. If blogging is still not a good fit for your startup, I see two paths:

  • If the blog has lots of posts or useful content, do not kill the blog. The content may still be useful to users, some customers and prospective customers, and may still be indexed by Google, which gives your site important visibility to prospective users and customers. Do this instead: Write a final post saying that the blog is being archived at the same location, and current news and information can be found at (other linked resource). But do remove the blog from site navigation, even though the URL stays the same. This will result in less traffic to the blog, but in my opinion it’s better to lose a little traffic than to send people to a resource that hasn’t been updated for months or years.
  • What if the blog has only a few posts? A typical scenario is the startup launched the blog because everyone else did it. After a handful of posts, there was no enthusiasm and the blog was abandoned. In this case, I would consider removing the posts and the navigation links, but only after someone has evaluated how the site has been indexed by Google and linked to by external sites. If you have just five posts, but one of them gets hundreds of referrals per month through links from Hacker News and Google, I would archive it at the same URL per the instructions above.

Lastly, if the company is dead and you’ve got a derelict site on your hands that for whatever reason you do not want to turn off, be courteous to the people who stumble upon the blog. Don’t let them believe that you are still in operation, and might still help them with whatever problem they have. Assuming you have already told your paying customers what happened, post a message or redirect that lets prospective customers, stragglers and other users know what happened and perhaps how you can be reached. Notifo’s final post from September 2011 (sorry, link no longer available)  is a good example, and goes one step further by recommending some alternative services:

Hi Notifo users,
This is Chad, founder of Notifo.
I am reaching out today to announce some sad news. Over the past 20 months, Notifo has tried to be the best notification platform for multiple endpoints including iPhone, Android, Growl, Email, and a few more. Notifo has been my full-time job during this time.
However, Notifo never gained enough traction with publishers or consumers to make enough revenue to pay the bills and sustain it as a company. As such, I have had to seek full-time employment elsewhere in order to pay my own living expenses. What does this mean for you and Notifo? Practically, it means that I will no longer be working on Notifo. For now, Notifo will continue to run as-is with no further plans for development but will probably be shut down as a result. I will try to keep it alive as long as possible, but please know that it could go away at any moment. I will do my best to provide at least 30 days notice before Notifo is officially shut down.
While Notifo will continue to run in the interim, I encourage you to find alternative methods to accomplish your notification needs. Some alternatives include:

  • Boxcar for iPhone/iPad
  • Prowl for iPhone/iPad
  • SMS with Twilio
  • Urban Airship
  • Xtify

I want to thank all of you for using Notifo. I’m deeply sorry about this result. There may be a few more posts regarding this situation. Please feel free to email me at [chad at notifo dot com] with any questions you may have.
Thanks for all your support,
-Chad

One last thing I would like to make clear: Untended blogs aren’t just a startup problem. I see established companies making the same mistakes. But established companies tend to have staff resources and budgets that makes it far easier to handle updates. And in almost all cases, they should know better than to let a product or company blog gather dust.

I realize that other startup bloggers and consultants with expertise in content strategy may have different ideas about how to deal with some of the problems I have described above. Feel free to add your opinion in the comments at the bottom of this page.

Image: C3, Cambridge Innovation Center. Photo by Ian Lamont.

Monitoring sales of Dropbox In 30 Minutes

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Dropbox User GuideDropbox In 30 Minutes has now been available for about nine months. For nearly as long, I have been monitoring interest in the Dropbox user guide, by closely watching sales. At first the book was only available as an ebook for the Amazon Kindle, but by the start of 2013 it was available for multiple e-reader, screen, and paper formats, including:

  • PDF (first via e-junkie, now gumroad)
  • Barnes&Noble/Nook
  • Apple/iTunes
  • Kobo
  • Paperback (via print-on-demand distributor CreateSpace)
  • Direct purchases of .mobi and .epub (which bypasses Amazon.com, iTunes, and other corporate ebook stores)

It was fascinating watching the evolution of the readership, especially after the paperback edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes was released last November. While the Kindle edition has been a strong seller from the start, sales have plateaued. Meanwhile, the paperback rapidly gained  fans and by February 2013 had overtaken the Kindle and all other versions. Note, however, that Amazon is also responsible for all paperback sales — it owns the POD service CreateSpace, so the paperback listing is automatically fed into an Amazon product page (which is now linked with the Kindle product page).

Getting back to the Kindle version hitting a sales plateau: I’ve been thinking a lot about what could be happening. Certainly, there is more competition for readers, both on Amazon itself and online. But there are other possibilities, including a plateau in Dropbox interest among my target audience. What could cause a once red-hot technology to slow down in popularity? Factors could include competition from giants in the space (for instance, Microsoft Skydrive or Google Drive), negative publicity (such as security concerns), or a maxing out of the potential audience. For now, I am discounting the idea that Dropbox is dropping in popularity, and am more focused on the competition — and how to make Dropbox In 30 Minutes and the free online resources even better.

From my unofficial Dropbox FAQ: Dealing with deleting

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I’ve started publishing some excerpts from my new Dropbox guide and “Chapter 5: The Rogue FAQ”. During the course of researching the book, I made an interesting discovery: Deleting Dropbox, I mean really wiping out the account and all of the files everywhere, is a major pain.

Facebook and other services get flak for making account deletion difficult. The usual methods:

  • Hiding the option deep in the settings panel
  • Not completely deleting the account (“in case you change your mind”)
  • Requiring multiple steps (“are you sure?”)

But Facebook has nothing on Dropbox. Not only is there is no single “delete Dropbox” button to press, the ways that most people might think are sufficient (closing the account on the Dropbox website, deleting the Dropbox app on the computer) leave files and folders perfectly intact. I learned this myself when I deleted the app on one of my computers. I didn’t expect it to have any effect on the master Dropbox account, but I at least thought the files on the PC would be trashed along with the app. I was wrong.

As for the question, “How do I delete Dropbox“, be prepared to spend some time chasing down and wiping all of the files on various PCs and devices before going to the Dropbox website. It may be inconvenient, but if you want to make sure everything is gone, a little pain is required.

 

Where was 38 Studios’ board of directors and SMT?

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There is a scandal engulfing 38 Studios, the game studio founded by Red Sox great Curt Schilling. The short story: 38 Studios recently failed to make a scheduled loan fee to the State of Rhode Island, which generously gave loan guarantees totaling $75 million back in 2010. An interesting question is surfacing, now that the company can’t even pay its employees. Where was the company’s board of directors and CEO when the Rhode Island deal was negotiated, and more recently when it became clear that the cost/revenue structure was not sustainable?

It’s rare that a scandal simultaneously touches the New England tech, political, and sports scenes, and the local and national press has been all over it. The media has been playing up the sexiest angle — a sports hero at the helm of a struggling company. But Schilling isn’t alone. He had a CEO, Jennifer MacLean (who just started maternity leave), an experienced CFO, Rick Wester, and an operations guru, Bill Thomas. And he had a board. At first I was unable to find it, because it had been taken offline, but I found a cached copy. Here it is:

38 Studios Board of Directors

Schilling had a solid board. Besides MacLean and Thomas, these were people with decades of experience in finance, new ventures, and the games and technology industries. Here’s how their board bios described them:

Martha Crowninshield

Ms. Crowninshield is a general partner emerita of Boston Ventures, an internationally recognized private equity firm with more than $2.5 billion in raised capital spanning seven limited partnership funds. Since 1985, she was principally involved in investing in the entertainment and leisure markets. Her track record of success includes such recognized names as Motown Record Company, Six Flags Entertainment Corporation, Billboard Publications, Inc, and USA Cinemas (now Loews). She is a member of the Board of Fellows at Harvard Medical School and Founding Co-Chair of the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center council. Her financial support and business advice are credited at Harvard Medical School as critical for the launch of the International MS Genetics Consortium where she serves on its Board of Directors. Ms. Crowninshield also has brought her business and leadership skill to her considerable efforts as a philanthropist. She was a driving force with the United Way in encouraging large individual donors to support targeted initiatives for programs including economic literacy and entrepreneurship for girls. As an overseer of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Huntington Theater Company in Boston, her work was focused on introducing the arts into the broader community with a special focus on education and participation for children. She also is involved in national and international initiatives to improve access to capital — both intellectual and financial — for women and people of color. A former member of the Executive Committee of the Simmons College Corporation and the Executive Committee of C200, she has received many local and national awards of recognition for her business and philanthropic leadership. Ms. Crowninshield received her MBA from Simmons College Graduate School of Business, and currently serves as Chair of Indaba Music.

Kevin Roche

Mr. Roche has 26 years of experience in investment banking, private equity and leveraged finance. From 2001 to 2006, Mr. Roche was Head of Investment Banking at Wachovia Corporation with responsibility for ten Corporate Finance industry coverage groups, Mergers and Acquisitions, Financial Sponsors Group, and Principal Investing. He held leadership responsibility for over $2.0 billion of revenue, a $40 billion loan portfolio and a $2.0 billion principal investing portfolio. During Mr. Roche’s five year tenure, Wachovia quadrupled its market share of investment banking fee-based revenue. Prior to being Head of Investment Banking, Mr. Roche was Co-Head of Leveraged Finance at Wachovia Corporation from 2000 to 2001 with responsibility for the Loan Syndications; High Yield Origination, Sales and Trading; Leveraged Capital; and Leveraged Finance Underwriting groups. From 1988 to 1999, Mr. Roche was a Managing Partner at Wachovia Capital Partners with a leadership role in founding this private equity investing business and in the successful growth and development of a $2 billion principal investing portfolio. Mr. Roche was previously a Vice President at Kidder, Peabody & Co. Incorporated, where he worked from 1980 to 1982 and 1984 to 1988. Mr. Roche holds a B.A. in Economics, magna cum laude, from Duke University and a M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Jim Halpin

Mr. Halpin is the President and owner of River Bend Inc., a private investment company. Prior to starting his own firm in 2000, Mr. Halpin served as President and CEO of CompUSA for seven years. During his tenure at CompUSA, he was named one of the “top 25 managers in the world” by Business Week in 1998. Mr. Halpin also served as President of HomeBase and BJ’s Wholesale Club. Mr. Halpin was also a director of Marvel Entertainment and Life Time Fitness. He was Chairman of the Compensation Committees at both Marvel and Life Time Fitness. In addition, he was a member of the Strategic Planning Committee at Marvel and the Finance Committee at Life Time Fitness. Mr. Halpin formerly served on the boards of Access and Posse, nonprofit organizations offering educational assistance to urban youth. Mr. Halpin has guest lectured at Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Babson, Columbia and Wharton.

Doug Macrae

Mr. Macrae began his career in videogames in 1981 when he founded General Computer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Within a few years the company grew to over a hundred employees designing arcade and home games for Atari and Bally / Midway. Between original games and arcade conversion to home systems, General Computer was responsible for versions of Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, Galaxians, Galaga, Asteroids, Joust, Robotron, Pole Position, Jungle Hunt, Xevious, Berserk, Desert Falcon, Dig Dug, Ballblazer, Jr. Pac-Man, Kangaroo, Moon Patrol, Food Fight, Phoenix, Quantum, Rubik’s Cube, Realsports Tennis, Track & Field, and Vanguard. In 1993, he founded a new company, VideoGuide, to design interactive program guides. In 1996, VideoGuide was merged into Gemstar; in 2000 Gemstar acquired TV Guide. Doug became President of TV Guide Consumer Electronics with offices in Boston, Los Angeles, London, Luxemburg, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. After retiring in 2005, Mr. Macrae became an avid World of Warcraft player, spending many hours of quality time with his sons. Desiring to get back into the videogame world, Doug, co-created the Azeroth Advisor, a personalized newsletter for players of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft game.

Sundar Subramaniam

Mr. Subramaniam is Chairman of IBCC whose holdings include Cambridge Technology Enterprises (CTE.NS), Knome, where he is Chairman, MTPV, Cambridge Energy Resources and DNSstuff, where he serves as director, CEO of Sialix and General Partner at Higher Moment Capital. He previously served as Chairman of I-Cube, C-bridge, Open Environment Corporation, and OneWave – all of which completed IPO’s, WorldStreet Corporation, Integrated Computing Engines, and as Managing Partner of Cambridge Samsung Partners, a Venture Capital firm. Mr. Subramaniam graduated from Brandeis University with a major in Computer Science and Economics, has an MBA from MIT and an MS from HST (Harvard-MIT Health Science and Technology).

The bio for the other board member, Tom Zaccagnino, was removed from the site at the time of this posting, but his cached bio reads:

Mr. Zaccagnino is currently Co-Managing Director at Wellesley Advisors Corporation, an institutional private equity real estate investment company. He is also a director at 1921 Realty Incorporated, a Real Estate Investment Trust and at Indaba Music, an international digital media company. Prior to these positions, Mr. Zaccagnino was a high-tech entrepreneur at Cambridge Technology Enterprises, holding various executive positions and directorships with portfolio companies. He has transacted business in over 25 countries on 5 continents, and has extensive experience in private equity, M&A, and private and public offerings. Mr. Zaccagnino is also an active early-stage investor and is a member of the Urban Land Institute and the Boston Real Estate Finance Association. He also serves as Chairman of the Yale Alumni Real Estate Association of New England and is a member of the Yale Alumni Schools Committee. Mr. Zaccagnino earned a Bachelor of Arts from Yale College. In addition to being a 38 Studios director, he currently serves as the Chairman of the Finance Committee and is a member of the Audit Committee.

As I said before, this is a solid board. These are qualified and experienced individuals who provided oversight to 38 Studios. They could not only advise Schilling and the senior management team, but had a fiduciary responsibility to help 38 Studios avoid financial crises. What happened? The story is still unfolding, but I think a lot more attention needs to be paid to the actions of the management team and board, not just Schilling.

Shaquille O’Neal’s UoP master’s degree brings out the critics

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Shaquille O’Neal received his doctoral degree in education last week. It wasn’t an honorary award — he earned it from Barry University, a private Catholic institution in Florida. It’s an admirable achievement that required lots of hard work, both on campus and off — he took many courses through distance education, but also had presentations and other activities on campus, as in the photo provided by Barry (the other person in the photo is David M. Kopp, Chair of the Organizational Learning and Leadership and Human Resource Development Programs).

Shaq doctorate degree

But I noticed an interesting thread in the Gawker story about Shaq’s graduation. The entertainer and former basketball star received a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix prior to getting his doctorate from Barry. The Gawker story only mentioned the UoP degree in passing, but it brought out a lot of spirited comments, many of them highly critical of University of Phoenix degrees.

MicMutt started off the thread with this comment:

Does “a Master’s degree from University of Phoenix” even mean anything?

A bunch of sarcastic comments followed (“It means your check to the University of Phoenix cleared”, “I hope so, that’s where I received my MD. Surgery rotation was cake”, etc.). But there was a serious response, too:

aaxan:

Lots of companies (and government agencies) pay for their employees to return to school for MBAs and such, and a substantial number of those people end up at UoP. It’s one of the top destinations because a lot of the time the employee just needs those extra letters behind his/her name, and the curriculum isn’t really that different from any other program.

However, one UoP supporter fired back at MicMutt with this:

You know what, if I ran a business I would take a UofP MBA over a BC/Columbia MBA every day of the week. Usually the people taking online classes are doing so because they are already out in the workforce, not everyone had daddy paying their tuition.

From there the conversation turned into a bitter war about privilege, ability, standards, and whether or not UoP degrees are legit. Example:

You know what? I do run a business and, as MicMutt said, a UoP MBA counts for very little. Traditional public and private not-for-profit universities offer online programs, and there are only two reasons someone would choose UoP:
1. Couldn’t get accepted to a program with legitimate admissions criteria;
2. Not sophisticated enough to realize that UoP is among the most expensive choices and has among the worst reputations.
This is not the sort of person I am interested in hiring for anything other than low-level grunt work.

These comments are cruel and unfair to students who put in a lot of work to earn their degrees. However, they do reflect real problems with UoP standards (which are affected by its for-profit mission) and perception in the marketplace. I wrote about this issue six years ago on another blog, and the post attracted more than 100 comments from UoP supporters and critics.

What’s missing from Harvard’s edX announcement

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Harvard EdX

The presidents of MIT and Harvard had a major announcement this morning regarding EdX, a non-profit venture to make certain Harvard and MIT courses freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. Unlike MIT’s decades-old OpenCourseWare initiative, which basically involved posting course curricula and problem sets online along with a few videos, edX goes much further. MITx and soon HarvardX has more video, structure, community, and even testing mechanisms to students can track their progress. EdX will be an independent umbrella organization to help run the two programs and share certain resources.

EdX is not really news for MIT. MITx was announced late last year, and made a huge impact. Hundreds of thousands of students have signed up to take MIT’s science and engineering classes. MIT even announced that people completing a set of courses would receive some sort of non-degree certification. MITx (and Khan Academy) made a lot of universities wake up to the possibilities of supplemental learning for society at large. Harvard was apparently starting to feel left behind; a source told the Boston Globe that Harvard felt “we didn’t want to look like we were playing catch-up.” Indeed, while MITx is already operational and serving its mission, HarvardX won’t offer any classes until later this year.

In addition, I noticed something peculiar about the HarvardX side of the venture. Harvard has been running Internet-based distance education continually since the 1990s through the Harvard Extension School. The announcement said that EdX would be separate from this and other existing distance education offerings through the Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School. In the press conference, Harvard’s provost briefly mentioned the expertise that the Extension School had developed, but it looks like there is no connection between edX and the Extension School.

Indeed, I am wondering if the free Harvard offerings from edX will compete with the Extension School’s own desire to get paying students to “sample” Harvard courses online. If casual students see that they can sample Harvard courses for free via edX, why should they pay thousands of dollars to take an Extension School class online? The Extension School can say that they offer credit for online courses. But to casual students paying $2000 or more for educational credit that will probably never be used, this doesn’t seem like a good value considering Harvard-branded knowledge can be obtained elsewhere for free.

You may also be interested in my earlier posts about distance education at Harvard and a review of The Gates Unbarred, the official history of the Extension School.

A new way to browse Craigslist

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Next month, my company plans on releasing the first version of our Craigslist app. It’s not going to be complicated (in fact, this early release will only let users buy on Craigslist with an iPhone or iPad), but we think it serves a big need in the marketplace. On a PC, Craigslist’s Web interface is oriented toward text. The Invantory app is really oriented toward photos, as you can see from the screenshot below:

Craigslist bike listing in Invantory

If there are more than two photos, all it takes is a horizontal swipe of the thumb to see the other photos. The other innovation relates to browsing: Instead of reading text lists, users are presented with thumbnails. This makes it much easier to visually identify items of interest and skip over items that are of no interest.

We’re excited about the app and hope you can give it a spin. You’ll be able to download it via the front page of Invantory.