Remembering Molly

I’m saddened to hear of Molly Holzschlag’s passing yesterday. Molly’s contributions to the web are innumerable. She more than earned her Fairy Godmother of the Web moniker.

But my memories of Molly are more personal. I didn’t get to spend much time with Molly, but the moments I did spend with her changed my life.

The first time I met Molly was at a WebVisions after party. I was an attendee. Molly was a rockstar.

Despite the difference, Molly treated me as a peer. She showed interest in and riffed on an idea I had. It was the first time I felt like I might have something interesting to contribute to the greater web. That conversation energized me.

The second time I met Molly was at Web 2.0 in San Francisco. I was still early in my speaking career. Molly remained a rockstar. She was the only other speaker I knew so I sought her out. I doubt she remembered me, but she welcomed me into her circle.

And her circle included several people who worked on browsers including on Internet Explorer during the tumultuous web standards period. For the first time, I heard insider accounts of the politics that defined web standards and whether or not a given company would adhere to those standards. This experience made me realize it was possible for individuals like me to contribute to web standards.

One story in particular stood out, but I fear I may get some of the details wrong. Much of the resistance from Microsoft when it came to web standards we due to one individual. That individual challenged Molly during one of the meetings that the Web Standards Project (WaSP) had with Microsoft. So Molly reached out to Bill Gates who had previously promised Molly and the rest of WaSP that Microsoft would cooperate.

The group laughed as they recalled this individual—the one who had blocked so much progress—had to step out to take a call from Bill Gates himself. They said they could hear Bill Gates yelling on the phone. Things changed after that day.

Think of all the time and effort lost dealing with Internet Explorer incompatibility mostly because of this one individual. One person can change the world, but not always for the better.

Molly is the counterpoint of course. She was one individual who made the world a significantly better place. Molly was a whirlwind that couldn’t be stopped and swept up all of those around her in it. We went along willingly.

My best memory of Molly is my most treasured. We skipped an afternoon of sessions at Web 2.0 and visited an art exhibit at the The Contemporary Jewish Museum. We talked about the web, her career, our shared love of challah, her family, and her extended web family. That afternoon remains one of my fondest memories from all of my conference experiences.

To this day, I can’t remember how or why we ended up at the museum. Why was I the lucky one who got to spend an unforgettable afternoon with the the Molly Holzschlag? I was no one significant. I barely knew her.

But that’s what made Molly amazing. She made everyone feel like they were someone. She touched my life and so many others.

Thank you Molly. You will be missed.

Mobilewood and

Last March, Luke sent an email:

We should have a mobile web/responsive design/multiple devices + web retreat sometime soon. Small intimate group of folks meet-up at a conference center in the woods for a long weekend and discuss/collaborate/etc.

Josh replied:

LOVE it. Color me deliriously enthusiastic (a rather bright orange) about this idea.

Since then I’ve been anxiously awaiting this event. Last week, ten of us gathered for two intense days in a beautiful location outside Nashville. Our shorthand for the event was Mobilewood.

Working session

We set out with a few goals in mind:

  • Was there some common ground between all of the different ways that each of us is trying to address device proliferation?
  • Can we find ways to help web developers and designers start to plan for this changing landscape?
  • How can we encourage browser makers to support device APIs and other tools needed to take full advantage of new capabilities in a more timely fashion?
  • How do we break out of the browser ghetto?

The first output of our collaboration launched today. It is a concept we’re calling Future Friendly.

We realized that none of us felt like our approach was necessarily the right approach for the future. The landscape is shifting too quickly to be confident. There is no such thing as future proof.

We have principles, tools, techniques, and some gut instincts on what will work in the future, but we don’t have solutions. And that is to be expected based on this stage of mobile’s ascendence. We have a long way to go before we have push-button deployment of web technology for multiple devices in the same way we do other web services.

Thus focuses on the things that we think can help prepare people for the chaos that is sure to come. Our thinking doesn’t offer proclamations. Instead, these are the areas that we find ourselves thinking a lot about and see as keys for the future. They are the starting point for conversation, not the ending.

There’s more to come from last weekend. I can’t wait to explore some of the concepts in more detail. But for now, I simply want to say thank you to a fabulous group of people:

I’m honored to have been included.

Devices and mobinauts

Thoughts on Greenlight Greater Portland

Thanks to the generosity of Rick Turoczy, I recently attended the Greenlight Greater Portland luncheon.

I waited a little while before posting my thoughts because I wanted to read through the materials to get a better sense of what the organization was about before commenting. I went into the luncheon knowing nothing about the organization.

Thankfully my delay gave me a chance to read some of the thoughts from David Abramowski about how Greenlight Greater Portland is no place for startups.

Ostensibly I was at the event to provide a startup perspective. However, the luncheon didn’t really touch on that so David’s write up will have to suffice if you are interested in that perspective.

Instead, I want to talk about two things:

  • What a great speaker Tom Szaky of Terracycle was. What an exceptional story.
  • What a shame it is that the best part of the luncheon had to be imported from New Jersey.

First, Terracycle is an amazing and inspiring story. Even if Terracycle wasn’t making a difference by dealing with waste, the business story and innovation alone would be noteworthy.

If you ever have a chance to see Tom speak, do it!

Unfortunately, Tom’s speech was preceded by two different individuals from Greenlight Greater Portland who read off scripts, droned on, and bored the audience.

One of the speakers tried to engage the audience in a gimmick where the audience would have a single clap after each talking point. This was attempted at the same time our food was served creating a dilemna for the audience between eating our meal and acknowledging the speakers pleas for single claps.

(Blah blah. Put down fork. Single clap. Pick up fork. Eat quickly. Put down fork. Single clap. Repeat.)

I normally avoid criticizing public speaking. It takes a lot to get on stage and not everyone was fortunate enough to have had a traumatic high school experience that eliminated the fear of public speaking.

However, in this case it detracted from what otherwise is really interesting information. The data gathered by Greenlight Greater Portland in their 2009 Greater Portland Prosperity Index is great stuff.

The printed version of the report is well designed, easy to read, and full of interesting notes on why Portland is well positioned for growth.

(You can also download the report from the Greenlight Greater Portland web site, but you apparently need to register to download it and the registration form does not say why they require you to register nor why they need your email. Consequently, I’m not linking to it.)

As far as the policies are concerned, they seem to be basing their work on policy and programs that worked in Austin. They sound reasonable enough, but consistent with what David wrote, I doubt it will have any direct impact on our business. If they succeed, then I’m sure the overall economic prosperity will help our business.

I did have a good time at the event and was inspired by the end. It’s just unfortunate that the promotion of what makes Portland special wasn’t inspirational. In fact, it was pretty boring. And that part that was inspirational came from New Jersey of all places.

Thanks again to Rick for the invitation and to my table mates for the good conversation. And despite my comments about the presentations during the luncheon, I wish Greenlight Greater Portland tremendous success.

Portland Tech Community

Lately I’ve found myself in a lot of conversations about the Portland Tech Community.

It started with a conversation with people at Software Association of Oregon (SAO) about their interest in creating a Mobile SIG and wondering how that would relate to Mobile Portland.

Then there was Thrive PDX which attempted to bring together the growing tech community that orbits around Legion of Tech activities and the different community that attends SAO events.

Finally tonight, Rick Turoczy led an interesting retrospective at the PDX Web Innovators on where the tech community has been in the last year and where it might go in 2009.

To varying degrees, all of these discussions have had some tension between those who want to bridge the different communities in Portland and those that desire a more organic approach. At ThrivePDX, someone suggested that we needed one group to coordinate all of these subgroups.

I dislike approaches like that. They are massive undertakings that never quite succeed. I prefer distinct problem statements that you can solve.

Which is why I became interested when someone tonight said that they had problem connecting to the Portland Tech Community when moving here from out of the area.

Over the last year, I’ve written several emails to people moving here describing different events to attend and at those events introduced people new to the area to others in the Portland Tech Community.

Despite the fact that I had found myself doing that multiple times, I never really thought about it as a need. I just considered it some ways part of being a good host for the town I grew up in.

As Selena pointed out tonight, our community is actually pretty good at pointing people in the right direction once you connect with someone in the community. She described it as latching onto a spoke and getting pulled in.

But there is a clear need. If someone doesn’t know to ask or whom to ask, they may never find their connection.

So it is with that in mind that I purchased tonight. I don’t want to solve bridging gaps between communities. I don’t want to replace existing organizations either formal like Legion of Tech and SAO or informal like I don’t have a desire to recreate other efforts like creating central calendar of events for the community.

Instead, I envision a site that solely exists to introduce people from out of town to the Portland Tech Community and connect them to one of the spokes. A short simple problem statement that we should be able to solve. It will benefit those moving here, and it will benefit Portland by highlighting how vibrant the community is and how to get involved.

Portland’s Tech Community has given a lot to me. This is one way of giving back. If you’re interested in helping out or have specific ideas on the best ways to accomplish the mission of the site, please leave a comment or contact me via Twitter.

Join us for Obama ’08 for iPhone Launch Party & Debate Watching

Live in Portland? Come join us Tuesday for an Obama ’08 for iPhone launch party and watch the next Presidential debate.

Doors open at 5 pm at the Mission Theater in NW Portland. We’ll be joined by Representative Earl Blumenauer and representative from the Oregon Obama for America campaign.

More details and RSVP information are available on You don’t have to RSVP to attend, but please show up as early as possible because the venue will likely sell out.

Announcing Obama ’08 iPhone Application

The main reason I became excited about mobile technology—excited enough to quit my job and start a new company—was because of the potential for mobile technology to be something that can literally change the world.

With that in mind, I’m happy to announce the Official Obama for America application for iPhone and iPod Touch users.

This is a secret side project that I’ve been working on for the last couple of months. The development started in earnest in the middle of September. The application was developed in 22 days.

The application is a great example of how mobile technology and the iPhone in particular can be used to change politics. One of the things we are proudest of is the fact that it helps people become what we started referring to as two-minute activists. The application organizes your address book by battleground state and provides mechanisms for you to track who you called and what they said.

Have a couple of spare minutes? Make a quick call and get out the vote.

I’m terribly proud of this application. I’m also honored to have been part of making it happen. It’s not simply that we built something that we believe will empower people to bring change to Washington, but it is also the fact that we assembled an exceptional team.

It’s a rare opportunity in life to work with a great group of talented people who are working long hours on a tight timeline for nothing other than their belief that they can make a difference. Our ten member team consisted of:

There’s much more that can be done with mobile technology to create social and political change, but for now, download the Obama ’08 for iPhone application and see the first steps in that process.

P.S. It probably goes without saying, but just to be clear: I don’t work for nor speak on behalf of the Obama campaign. I’m just a geek who wanted to help out. :-)

Ignite Portland Recap

Dana and I had a blast at Ignite Portland last night. The presentations were wonderful, entertaining and thought-provoking.

If you missed the event, you can still watch the videos of the presentations courtesy of Linuxaid.

One of my favorite parts of the evening was meeting people. Some of the people I met I’ve been following on Twitter. Twitter has contributed to a sense of community in Portland’s tech and creative circles that I haven’t seen before. It’s a wonderful thing.

While all of the presentations were interesting, I had a few thoughts I wanted to share on a couple of them:

  • Where Does Imagination Go? — This may have been my favorite of the funny presentations for the night. It was riddled with Lewis Carroll-like quotes such as “Where does imagination go? I don’t know. Imagination can only go where we imagine it to go. And imagination has never gone where I imagined it couldn’t.”
  • That’s Entertainment: Politics as Theater in Campaign ’08 — One of the slides showed how politicians have to be performers. Bill Clinton had to play the sax. Mike Huckabee on guitar. It reminded me of running for student government in high school all over again. Except it’s not high school.
  • Time for Portland to Take Its Place — Great stuff in this presentation. The ideas of following our passions, swing for the fences and build great companies. Portland is the place this stuff can happen. We just need to shoot higher.
  • Beauty in Abandonment — It was great to see Peat on stage and Lyza‘s photo. I didn’t realize Peat was a photographer as well. More to talk about the next time we grab lunch.
  • A History of the Stick Figure — This was a five-minute version of the Helvetica documentary. Great info and history that I didn’t know.

To sum up the evening, Dana turned to me and said, “You better invite me to the next one.” Consider it done.

Why I Like Public Speaking

People are often surprised to find out that I’m introverted because I seek opportunities for public speaking. Why would an introvert like public speaking?

There are a few reasons including my appreciation for great oratory; the fact that public speaking is easier for me than chit chat; and it provides a forum to share ideas that I’m enthusiastic about.

The main reason I like public speaking is because I have little fear of it. I know public speaking is one of the top fears for most people. It used to be one of my top fears before I ran for student government in high school.

At my high school, there was a large assembly during which all of the candidates for office were given time slots to campaign for votes. I prepared a heartfelt speech about what I believed student government needed to do and how I would make sure it did it.

As I stood backstage worried about my speech, my apprehension quickly turned into terror. I watched each candidate get on stage and perform skits, sing, dance or simply act silly do make the audience laugh.

This wasn’t an election. It was a talent show!

I realized there was no way this didn’t end in humiliation. If I decided not to go on stage, everyone would know, and I would be harassed endlessly. If I went on stage, I was going to make a fool out of myself, and be harassed endlessly.

Guessing that I was screwed either way, I went on stage.

It was awful. See I made the worst mistake possible in high school. I took something seriously and was earnest. I was mocked, heckled, and a few people even threw things before teachers stopped them.

Thankfully, it was a short speech. But it didn’t end there. I was teased mercilessly on the bus ride home and the following day.

But then two amazing things happened.

First, I had some students who had never talked to me before tell me that they loved my speech and that my speech was the only one that was worth it for them. Second, within a few days, people stopped teasing me, and I had survived.

I was still gun-shy about public speaking for some time, but when I had the opportunity to do give a speech in college, I found that I had little apprehension. The reality is that nothing can happen to me on stage now that would be worse that the embarrassment I experienced in high school. And I survived that.

So now public speaking is enjoyable. I insist on being prepared and knowing my material well. I stress endlessly about making sure the presentation is perfect and that I’m telling a good story. But once I step on stage, I have confidence that nothing can happen to me that will top my high school experience.

After I left the high school’s auditorium, I didn’t want to face the world ever again. Now, I’m incredibly thankful I had that experience.

Speaking at Web Innovators on Feb 13th

I’m going to be speaking at the PDX Web Innovators February meeting on Mobile Web and the upcoming mobile tsunami. I’m excited to have the opportunity to share my love for the mobile web and possibilities available for businesses and developers.

Here are the details:

Graciously Hosted by Nemo Design
1875 Se Belmont St
Portland, Oregon
February 13th, 7 pm
PDX Web Innovators

In preparation for this event, I’m going to be starting a series of blog posts talking about the mobile market and how it mirrors the early days of the Internet. These posts are likely going to be posted on Cloud Four’s blog, but I’ll be sure to link to them from here.