DC Mobile Monday “Frictionless Design” event notes

#DCMoMo event hosted by @PappasGroup

This event was more about catching up with some friends for me but the panelist offered some interesting tidbits.

Demian Perry, NPR (@perrydc)
- Your app needs to demonstrate its core focus (and excellence) within seconds of the user encountering it. “You have a few seconds to show a user what to do. If they have to think, you lose them.”
- The shift toward the lean startup method means more failure (since it’s hypothesis-based and tested on the fly) but a greater focus on (and accountability toward) doing what’s right for the audience.
- NPR just hired an “innovation accountant” to check effectiveness of digital promotion (among other things).

Robert Spier, Travel Channel (@reaubaire)
- in large companies, especially where digital is done by a standalone team, it’s helpful to craft a one-sentence mission statement for an app to preserve consensus throughout the design & development process.
- don’t underestimate the importance of constant promotion — launch week is just the beginning.
- Scripps is seeing early promise from a strategy that places their ‘TV Everywhere’ apps (as distinct from bespoke apps for major broadcast channels) on a common framework and enables bundled sales packages.

Chris Koth, PBS
- Trying to focus on removing points of user friction at the outset, to enable a better experience inside the app.
- PBS is starting to think about how to evolve the app experience so it changes (i.e., becomes even more relevant) for power users.

Lil Tidings, Rosetta Stone (@liltydings)
- Don’t assume your experience (and those in your network) is a fair proxy for most of your users (or right model for the app you’re building).
- Lil shared a great perspective on how Rosetta Stone is evolving into a learning company that uses Design Thinking and is attempting to pioneer innovation from with (disrupting itself in the process); there is an interesting dynamic forming between the primacy of intuitive design choices and being thoughtful on how best to understand data correlation.
- the most enjoyable experiences will win — at RS, “MVP” stands for Minimum Valueable Product.

DC Lean Startup: “Back to Basics” – event notes

DC Lean Startups:  “Back to Basics” Meetup

“In God we trust; all others bring data.” —  W. Edwards Demming

The event was a fine overview of the basic principles of Lean by Teague Hopkins (@teaguehopkins), followed by presentations from three entrepreneurs who have employed Lean in their own growing businesses.

Lean is a methodology worth learning.  At it’s core it’s about getting to market faster, and failing/learning/refining your product faster so you can determine whether anybody is actually interested in paying for your solution.  Teague drew a nice contrast to Agile development methodology, which is about minimizing Tech risk

This seems especially relevant given the way fundraising has changed recently — especially in the consumer digital space, as VC attention shifted toward B2B —  to require companies to demonstrate traction in the market.  (I haven’t studied this enough to understand if there is a chicken/egg dynamic at work.)

In an excellent, high-energy talk Cont3nt.com’s CEO Anton Gelman (@antonreport) offered a useful checklist of sites that make creating a fully-functioning, visually compelling, testable and social-and-analytics-enabled web prototypes.  Full scoops are in his presentation, but the TL;DR version:

    1. GoDaddy — domain registration
    2. WordPress — content platform whose themes and plugins “will do 90% of the job for most web development projects”
    3. Pagely.com — “awesome WordPress hosting”
    4. Themeforest.com — “spectacularly rich themes” that typically run around $40 for individuals
    5. Buddypress.org — OOTB social networking capabilities for your site
    6. Google Analytics — ‘nuff said
    7. Optimizely — great platform to enable A/B testing on your site
    8. Facebook — still the best way to attract users (i.e., testers) to your site, and faster than canvassing outside
    9. Jotform.com — excellent tool for making all manner of forms, including those that connect to your user tracking, social, payment platforms, etc. “The greatest!”

Venture Capital Outlook 2014 event notes

Venture Capital Outlook 2014, hosted by PotomacTechWire at Gannett.

Harry Weller, General Partner, NEA
Tige Savage, Managing Partner, Revolution Ventures
Don Rainey, General Partner, Grotech Ventures
Arun Gupta, Partner, Columbia Capital
Thanasis Delistathis, Founder and Managing Partner, New Atlantic Ventures
Moderator: Paul Sherman (@PaulRSherman)
This breakfast has become one of the more interesting events I attend.  Five of the area’s top VCs talking about the year that was and predicting the year ahead….and some of them are even funny!
TL;DR:  VCs will remain focused on the enterprise space in 2014, with particular emphasis on new platforms & tools for the healthcare, education and cyber-security industries.
Notes for a portion of the moderated Q&A follow:
Biggest surprises in 2013?
- strong IPO market, particularly biotech which had its first window for exits in a decade.
- death of privacy?  will NSA revelations make privacy paranoia mainstream?
- the disconnect/dissonance between robust capital markets and total disfunction on Capital Hill…could mean a false sense of security.
- 2012 was all about Mobile but 2013 was SaaS.
- VC stopped being a four-letter word.
- Though average exit statistics held, there was greater stratification as the scale needed to exit grew (e.g., company that used to be $50M run-rate now needs to be a $100M run-rate…but if you make it there the payoffs are far greater).
- IPO market strong because US equities still perceived as among most reasonable risk for liquidity worldwide; bloom has come off the BRICs since 2011.
Discuss VC shift to focus on enterprise vs consumer?
- Stronger focus on how to monetize in consumer space —
- Some products becoming enterprise plays in consumer clothing (e.g. OpenTable…looks consumer-focused but really enterprise software for restaurants, who can spend the money and get companies to recurring revenues).  Smaller businesses now getting access to same quality set of tools (and high-quality UX) previously only available to large companies.
- Standard ad-supported media business is and will remain difficult.  Industries being disrupted by next wave of enterprise plays comprise 1/3 of US GSP:  health, education, retail, software.
- VCs are drawn toward enterprise companies because they are attacking fairly predictable markets with large incumbents; consumer space is far harder to predict.  Enterprise has a ‘fat middle’ where you can become $2-5B, whereas nearly all consumer plays struggle to exceed hundreds of millions, except the exceptions worth $20B.  Thus, “batting average is better in enterprise but slugging percentage is better in consumer.”
Focus for 2014?
- Revolution taking same approach: looking for new business models (usually tech-enabled) that can flourish under established industries, a la Zipcar in rental car space.
- Columbia Capital keeping focus on infrastructure (big bet on fiber) and enterprise space.  Looking at enterprise PaaS plays and cyber-security.
- Grotech: “business intelligence for the masses” (tools for small businesses).  Digital identity/wallet to enable mCommerce.  Reemergence of e-mail products that addresses longstanding shortcomings, e.g., chronological presentation.
- New Atlantic Ventures: cyber security; enterprise plays in healthcare and online education (especially big in DC area) because costs are skyrocketing.
- NEA: cluster computing revolution
2013’s most overused term, common business model and best pitch?
- Thanasis: “curated marketplace,” “ad-supported media” and Pokitdok (healthcare pricing transparency)
- Don: “big data,” “we’ll figure it out later” and RoyaltyExchange (democratize liquidity for royalties, starting with music and moving to energy)
- Arun: “SaaS,” “we’ll sell the data” and pitch was an unnamed company working on int’l money transfer they passed on
- Tige: “growth-hacking” is just silly, “transaction-based model” losing traction to subscription and pitch was for an unnamed company in the “small lending” space with a great one-sentence description
- Harry: “growth-hacking” agreement, “eCommerce” model and pitch was for company transforming Computer Aided Design software.
One start-up to watch in 2014?
- Thanasis: Quad Learning (making higher ed more affordable by enabling students to do first half at community colleges) http://quadlearninginc.com
- Don:  Optoro (revolutionizing retail asset/inventory mgmt)  http://optoro.com
- Arun: Endgame Systems (cyber-secruity) http://www.endgame.com
- Tige: Booker (scheduling platform for SMBs) http://www.booker.com
- Harry: luminal (applying bio-regeneration principles from natural world to AWS security) http://luminal.io

Notes from recent DC mobile/tech events – Dec 2013

I attended a few excellent mobile/tech events over the past week and thought I’d recap some of my key takeaways here — mainly for myself, because let’s not kid ourselves it’s going to be an echo chamber around these parts for a while.  :-)

To make the length of the post bearable, I’m going to break this into a single post for each event:

1.  Venture Capital Outlook 2014, hosted by PotomacTechWire at Gannett.

2.  DC Lean Startup:  ”Back to Basics” hosted at Capital One Labs.

3.  DC MoMo “Frictionless Design” panel, hosted by Pappas Group.

A final hat tip to Pete Erickson (@peteerickson) and the entire MoDev crew (@GoMoDev) for hosting MoDev East, which has grown into a massive event with over 100 speakers in two days.

I had the good fortune to work the event as a volunteer at the registration table and, in addition to having more fun that I had any right to expect, it exponentially improved my experience as an attendee.  Like so many things in life, I got way more out of it than I put in.

2013 Favorite Tracks (Extended Remix | Dance)


Here’s the extended version of the Remixes/Dance section of my top five, with  commentary and numerous honorable mentions.

Summary post

Spotify playlist  |  Rdio playlist

1. Phoenix – Trying to be Cool (Chainsmokers Remix)
100X better than the original to my ears (no disrespect, Phoenix!).

2. Bloc Party – Truth (Digitalism Remix)
Classic Digitalism at work: a ridiculously long build before the D.R.O.P.P.PPPP Frequently utilized on the treadmill.

3. Major Lazer – Get Free (Bonde do Role remix)
Loved the original, love the extra kick in this remix even more.

4. Du Tonc – Darkness
Slick as f**k French discohaauuussss — one of my songs of the summer.

5. Holden – Renata
I nearly went with the minimal, abstruse “Gone Feral” from the same album by one of the more interesting and experimental EDM producers around.

Honorable Mention — RAC spotlight:
RAC is probably my favorite producer at the moment, claiming the throne long-occupied by Stuart Price/Jacques lu Cont. His remixes are so consistently good that it seemed unfair to choose only one.

His single “Let Go”(featuring Kele of Bloc Party on vocals) was also popular but I prefer the remixes. Alas, a quirk of unfortunate scheduling meant I missed his only DC appearance of the year.

* Capital Cities – Safe and Sound (RAC Mix)
A lively mix of one of my son’s favorite songs of the year…lucky for me I managed to get him into this version.

* MNDR – Feed Me Diamonds (RAC mix)
By now you’re getting the picture…nothing too fancy but perfect craftsmanship.

* MS MR – Think of You (RAC mix)
Yeeasssshhh…breakdown is so good I wish it would go on forever. (Explicit word in chorus.) Not on Spotify so I substituted last year’s amazing remix of Houdini by Foster the People.

Honorable Mentions – Others:

* Avicii — Wake me Up
Sorry, but this inescapable song was legit…certainly more of a summer anthem to me that Get Lucky or that awful Robin Thicke song. ;-)

* Claptone – Wrong
A house song organized around a sample from Still D.R.E.? What’s not to love – just play it.

* Dim Sum – Coucou Disco
More spacey French disco that is in no way or perhaps entirely indebted to Daft Punk…

* Foals – Bad Habit (Alex Metric Remix)
The original from this underrated band is great in that uplifting-yearning way, but I’m slightly partial to this remix.

* Hey Champ – Cold Dust Girl (Gemini Club Remix)
A late entrant to this list, the remix starts out normally enough but turns into a party unto itself.

* Katy Perry – Dark Horse
Those who know me will understand how KP’s new album was in heavy rotation at my house (though I suppose the album was inescapable everywhere); but the anthemic, oddly-abbreviated chorus grabbed me and wouldn’t let go for a solid two weeks.

* Maya Jane Coles – Easier to Hide
This young DJ-turned-producer has really begun to hit her stride with some subdued house. Everything brings a more plaintive vocal (from Swede Karin Park, whose reminds me of Lykke Li or the Knife’s Karen Dreijer) and a hint of menace in the groove. Ms. Coles also produced a terrific remix of the standard Blue Skies (Ella Fitzgerald vocal).

* Pryda – Rotonda
This track from Eric Prydz’s alter-ego might have made the top five had it not taken me so long to locate it. Glad I finally tracked it down…ironically, in his February Essential Mix that was named the year’s best by Mr Pete Tong.

* The XX – Reunion (Edu Imbernon Remix)
I found this gradually-building groove, and especially the slow-mo-club-ready bouncy riff that shows up around 2:30, a heckuva lot better than the original.

* Yoko Duo – Kept on Walking (Dave DK Manchester Super Jam)
A late entrant to this list, and another mellower track that practically unspools from the headphones, it’s a worthy closer to the 2013 playlist.

Image: www.dmvicious.com

2013 Favorite Tracks (Sui Generis extended), other Best-ofs


Here is extra commentary on the two songs I included that didn’t fit into my three pre-defined categories, followed by some links to other 2013 best-of lists that will show me what I missed.

Summary post

Spotify playlist  |  Rdio playlist

Sui Generis Award (Beyond Categorization)
1. Son Lux — Lost it to Trying
If Philip Glass and Ladytron had an electropop love child it might sound like this. Brilliant.

2. Jez Dior — Move On
Jez Dior is one to watch, with music reminiscent of Kid Cudi or Girl Talk’s very high production values (though not nearly as sample-based).
On this track Lana del Ray sample meets Dubstep meets (explicit) hip-hop on a surging, annihilating track. Put on headphones, maximize volume, play, repeat.
The Spotify playlist includes their track Love Me To Death instead — a quality track along the same lines — and Candles is another.

Jez Dior

Other 2013 Best-of Lists

Filter “Top 10″ Staff Picks

Hype Machine “Zeitgeist”

Pitchfork Top 50 Albums of 2013  (there is a different section for their Top 100 tracks)

Slacker Radio Top 50 Alt/Indie of the Year

2013 Favorite Tracks (Dulcet Tones extended)


Here’s the extended version of the “Dulcet Tones” (i.e., melodic electronic) section of my top five, with  commentary and numerous honorable mentions.

Summary post

Spotify playlist  |  Rdio playlist

Dulcet Tones (Melodic electronic)

1. HAERTS – Wings
This unabashedly soaring, earnest and melodic synth pop simply swept me away.

2. Phantogram – Black Out Days
This. Song. Simply. Crushes. It.

3. Black Light Dinner Party – Older Together
The debut Sons and Lovers has a number of great tracks.

4. Elliphant – Down on Life
If Santigold were Swedish… Explicit — well, one single s-word word in first line, so nothing a strategic ‘sneeze’ couldn’t cover.

5. Tove Lo – Habits
More Swedish pop genius. Though the lyrics aren’t at all family-friendly and the chorus is about the escapist quality of drugs, the pop is too STRONG in this one not to play it out loud, over and over. (The ooo-oos during the chorus are reminiscent of Girls Aloud in their prime.) If you like this also check Hippie Sabatoge – Stay High (Tove Lo Flip) which uses parts of the song.

Honorable Mentions:

* Alt-J – Breezeblocks (NICITA remix)
The original just missed being included in my 2012 top five, so I’m partially making up for the omission by including this 2013 remix. Their debut album An Awesome Wave comes highly recommended; the original version is on the Spotify playlist.

* Baby Alpaca – Sea of Dreams
Fairly stark and haunting…involuntary contemplation. The more upbeat Turbotito remix is also worth checking out.

* Bonobo – Cirrus
Another excellent track from another excellent album by these masters of mellow

* Chrome Sparks — Send The Pain On
What can I say, I’m a huge sucker for bleepy arpeggios that invite you to close your eyes; Marijuana was the cooler, bigger hit from this EP.

* CHVRCHES – The Mother We Share
Take your pick from the surprisingly tight debut from this trio featuring a lead singer for whom the word ‘elfin’ was invented.  (Recover and Gun are also standout tracks.)

* Cyril Hahn feat. Shy Girls – Perfect Form
A breathless, soulful song that owes something to the Sade-style while possessing bouncing baseline that moves the song along. My brain says no but my heart says yes.

* Flume (Feat. Isabella Manfredi) – The Greatest View
Great track that didn’t appear on his heralded full length album.

* Glasser – Shape
Unfortunately, I completely forgot about this track when I assembled the list — it really could have made the top five.  This deep, swirling leadoff track from Glasser’s sophomore album had me swooning (and reminded me of Post-era Bjork).

* Ghost Loft – So High
Another completely chill track that never failed to relax.

* Hooverphonic – Norweigian Stars
An unexpected return to form from a band that released a couple quality, expansive albums in the 90s. (I still love “Inhaler.”) Bonus track: Amalfi, the leadoff from another, more guitar-driven 2013 release that I only discovered when I searched Spotify for the former song.

* Little Boots – Motorway
I’m not the first to point out the similarites between this track and the classic of the same name by Saint Etienne, but it doesn’t make me any less wrong.

* Mr Little Jeans – Runaway
Another driving 2012 track I only discovered because I came across their throbbing, twisting cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” — itself dating from 2011.

* MS MR – Ash Tree Lane
Not sure what I think of the trend toward CPTL LTRS WTHT VWLS for all new band names, but I know I like this tune, as well as the album’s quintessential leadoff track Hurricane.

* Phosphorescent – Song for Zula
A calmly upbeat track with vocals that remind me a little of a young Bruce Springsteen.  (Early U2 is also cited.)

* Say Lou Lou — Julian
More breathless synth pop of above-average quality. If you fancy a “ballade de fromage” instead try Beloved.

* Small Black – Breathless
I was a big fan of the album Limits of Desire that featured this pulsating track, and one of the more interesting cover art photos of the year.

* SOHN (or possibly S O H N) – Lessons
Very atmospheric and layered electronic music…a little tough to track down but I’m not sure I’ve heard anything by him(?) that I don’t enjoy.

* St. Lucia – Too Close
Other songs from the anticipated When The Night album stole more of the plaudits, but this gets my pick solely on the basis of its expert use of 80s keyboards and drum machine, with an Introspection-era Pet Shop Boys bridge right in the middle.

* Tennis – Timothy
2012’s Deep in the Woods was a song I couldn’t stop playing for large swaths of the year; but I went for one from their new EP. If you listen to both songs and prefer the latter, then also try Dimming Light.

Image: www.quarterlifeparty.com

2013 Favorite Tracks (Indie extended)


Here’s the extended version of the Indie section of my top five, with  commentary and numerous honorable mentions.

Summary post

Spotify playlist  |  Rdio playlist

Indie Pop/Rock

1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
I firmly believe that this song is the reason the baritone saxophone was invented. My surely-a-cousin-somehow James Murphy produced a masterpiece.

2. Night Drive – Drones
Surely the catchiest song ever written about the murky ethical considerations of drone warfare, this pop piece-de-resistance earns its place entirely on musical merits.

3. The Strokes – One Way Trigger
I was addicted to this jaunty tune, which apparently causes involuntary head bobbling, on the first listen. Lighter fare than expected from The Strokes but the snappy drumming is outstanding.

4. Vampire Weekend – Step
The early VW oeuvre is hit-or-miss for me but I can’t say enough good things about this more mature track. Seeing it live in London this summer was a personal highlight.

5. The National – Graceless
This album will no doubt appear on many Best of… lists — for me it wasn’t as good as High Violet but the once-Ohio-now-Brooklyn-based outfit can still deliver.

Honorable Mentions:

* Cults – High Road.
Color me slightly disappointed with this much-anticipated sophomore outing but this track has a great vibe reminiscent of 60s-tinged Camera Obscura or Tennis, and other keepers like Always Forever include a tinge of Beach House.

* Geographer – This Is How We Walk On The Moon (Arthur Russell)

* Hot Chip – Dark & Stormy.
This title track of this consistently excellent EP just edges “Flutes” for its slight undercurrent of menace. Besides, choosing Flutes would have put me between the original and the nasty Sasha mix.

* The Neighbourhood – Sweater Weather.
OK, totally cheating here since I didn’t discover this song until January 2014, but I like it so much that I decided to retroactively include it instead of saving it up for an entire year.   Great new band with a shade of Amy Winehouse/Mark Ronson in the songwriting.

* Pixies – Andro Queen.
They’ve lost Kim Deal and the new EP hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm, but I’m happy to have them back.  This song is further evidence that when they aren’t busy being one of the loudest bands in the universe they are capable of lovely stuff (exhibit A being “Wave of Mutilation [UK Surf]“.)

* Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.
I missed this album in 2012 but am glad I found it in early 2013 — besides this one check out Why Won’t They Talk To Me or Nothing That Has Happened.

* Two Door Cinema Club – Handshake (or Sleep Alone).
A toss up — their hooks are among the catchiest in pop.

* Vance Joy – Riptide.
A touch of the folksy, Lumineers/Bon Iver-thing in this catchy track.

* White Lies – Change.
I wanted to go with the much more straightforward power-pop lead single “Big TV” (which I nevertheless recommend) but I couldn’t get past this stunning, stark and very unexpected ballad. In high school I would have listened to this song endlessly – I didn’t get out much back then :) – and it wouldn’t be out of place on a This Mortal Coil LP.

* Young Dreams – First Days of Something.
Whoever produced this track has the classic indie sound down pat, but good fundamental songwriting shines through and the riff during the chorus has shades of Paul Simon or, more lately/likely, Vampire Weekend.

Image: http://vimeo.com/74214612

2013 Favorite Tracks Summary (Indie | Electronic)


The “real” first post on this nascent blog — and welcome to anyone directed here by the holiday card — is all about one of my favorite pastimes: music discovery.

While I am miles away from Rob Fleming (of High Fidelity fame for the uninitiated), and the connoisseurs at Pitchfork will find no threat here to their fine (if slightly, ahem, precious) work, last year I began to keep better tabs on the new songs that I enjoyed the most.

A top five found its way to my 2012 holiday card, and this year I couldn’t narrow it down. (This is perhaps correlated to the fact that I, uh, had considerably more listening time this year).

Instead I expanded to include a top five in a few categories. And then included way more in the form of honorable mentions galore. (Hey, you got a problem go make your own list. ;-)

This is the TL;DR version — just artist and song info for my top picks.  Subsequent posts go into more detail and include the numerous honorable mentions.

I made 60-track playlists of as many songs as were available on Spotify and Rdio, and embedded SoundCloud URLs below for those that weren’t.

TL;DR Version
Spotify playlist  |  Rdio playlist

1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
2. Night Drive – Drones
3. The Strokes – One Way Trigger
4. Vampire Weekend – Step
5. The National – Graceless
Dulcet Tones (Melodies/Electronic)
1. HAERTS – Wings
2. Phantogram – Black Out Days
3. Black Light Dinner Party – Older Together
4. Elliphant – Down on Life
5. Tove Lo – Habits
1. Phoenix – Trying to be Cool (Chainsmokers Remix)
2. Bloc Party – Truth (Digitalism Remix)
3. Major Lazer – Get Free (Bonde do Role remix)
4. Du Tonc – Darkness
5. Holden – Renata
Sui Generis
1. Son Lux – Lost it to Trying
2. Jez Dior – So Move

Finally, for the record…

2012 Top Five
1. RAC Feat. Penguin Prison – Hollywood (Magician Remix)
2. Kolumbo – My Own Business
3. Beach House – Troublemaker
4. Sun Airway – Close
5. Punch Brothers – Movement and Location

Here I am and here goes nothing…

OK, so here I am and here goes nothing.  As I publish these words I — someone who isn’t really comfortable shouting into the infinite void — am unsure of what this blog will say.  Or how much truth it will tell.

I’m not even sure how much of this blog will be personal, which is clearly where I’m starting, versus professional, which is probably what it ought to be since the public record of my 17.5 year AOL career amounts to practically nothing and as of this writing I’m on the job market.  I suppose there’s always Twitter and LinkedIn for that stuff.

(Perhaps a future post will explore the strange way our share-everything-but-really-only-the-good-stuff social culture has even created the optimistic “Jobseeker” profession for someone who is simply looking for work.)

Technically, this isn’t my first website. In setting up this blog I was reminded of a page I was asked to create shortly after I started working at AOL in 1995.  The title of that page was “Murphola’s Terrifying Foray Into Digital Immortality,” and while the page has long since disappeared, a lost fossil in a substrata of Internet schist, the adverb in the title still feels uncomfortably apt.

And yet I’m back, not quite ready to admit defeat, forced into the task by my decision to include this URL in our holiday card.  The next post will list my favorite songs of 2013, even though I spent plenty of time listening to plenty of older things like Beethoven’s immortal symphonies, the flawless “Complete” by The Smiths, and even Sasha’s 2005 Essential Mix at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios…  But I’m told you gotta give the people something new!

So here I am (again) and here goes nothing.