SoJo is now mobile-friendly
November 11 was the target soft-launch date for the newest version of SoJo's site, and I'm proud to announce that our team was successful in holding to this deadline.
Over the past 2 months, our development team has been diligently working to convert the current version of http://theSoJo.net on a responsive framework written in HTML5 and CSS3. This product launch went largely unannounced, as to the average user, SoJo looks the exact same. This is our first maintenance update. A web-based product will never be complete, and while it's tempting to continue to add features, this launch allows us to support more fundamental functional requirements: namely improving load time, scalability, mobile-friendliness, ease of upgrades, etc.
This whole experience has taught our team the importance of budgeting organizational resources to maintenance. Up until now, SoJo has been busy building the site and each product launch consisted of new features and upgrades. Since the last product launch, Jesse has been pulling his hairs fixing unforeseen bugs, and I've been consistently shocked by unexpected surprises on the live site. It is our hope that this newer technology will leave behind the unpleasant surprises and allow the Product team to produce at a more optimal pace. Further, building with a newer technology is creating the foundation to set SoJo up for forward-looking success. The website is now optimized for viewing on mobile devices and is an even more accessible resource.
There is no doubt that launching a new product is more exciting for the team than a maintenance update. Although there is no press coverage this time (unlike our Beta and official Launch), this launch is equally rewarding, as its a great feeling to see this product just get better each time.
Our databases were migrated live on the 11th, our servers shut down on the 12th and the team is working diligently to iron-out the kinks. Please bare with us; http://theSoJo.net will look spectacular in a few days!
"The future of technology is what you make it"
Those were the words of Nathan Masyuko, when speaking on stage at the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT) yesterday in Montréal in front of thousands of the worlds leading business leaders and thinkers in information technology. Next to him was the president of one of Canada's largest telecommunications companies who so eloquently said that he wishes to put more (dumb TV shows - name omitted for obvious reasons) into the hands of more people.
It was quite a contrast. I've been to a handful of technology conferences over the past 2 years and spoken at many over this past year. I'm accustomed to hearing the latter statement. The themes at tech conferences are fairly predictable: big data, attracting talent, connectivity, etc... I had yet to attend a panel or hear a keynote focused exclusively on how to use technology and the data at our disposal to channel creative talent and energy to better connect and support people in addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges. Or better yet, hear every speaker and exhibitor talking about that.
The World Summit Youth Awards (WSYA) is an annual international competition for digital and social innovators under 30, and was held in parallel to WCIT this year in Montréal. Over a thousand youth who have built an innovative idea using technology to address the UN's Millennium Development Goals applied to this award. The winners were invited to a 3-day event, which I felt privileged and honoured to be apart of.
I had the opportunity to play with haki, a mobile game built for a Nokia phone (the most widespread device in Africa) that educates its users on environmental degradation. Nathan, a Kenyan, co-developed this game and it’s been downloaded by thousands of people in the developing world. Beyond mobile games, there were online localized educational platforms, multimedia applications to build self-esteem among vulnerable populations, SMS services to deliver relevant information to farmers to help them yield better crops, a web-application that displays public finances in a more user-friendly manner to provide open access to data, and a tool that keeps Presidents in newly democratic countries accountable.
I walked away from the past three days inspired and energized. Inspired by the incredible stories of the WSYA winners, the creativity of their projects and exciting use of technology to solve some of the worlds most pressing challenges; and energized by the sheer enthusiasm and passion that I saw around me. This was no boring tech conference with people in suits talking in buzz words; I was surrounded by energy, passion and brains.
I've always been hopeful about the future, but I'm now more reassured that the future of technology is brighter than ever. The WSYA winners are living proof that it’s possible to make tremendous impact with an idea, an incredible amount of tenacity, and of course, technology as the vehicle.
I'm delighted to announce that SoJo will be working with these incredible individuals and projects to bring them to the next level.
Collectively, I've spent more hours on MS Powerpoint this past week then I probably have over the past couple of months combined.
In school I absolutely hated slideshows, perhaps its because professors had the most un-engaging presentations or because whenever I saw someone use slides in a presentation, it felt overly corporate and impersonal. Unless absolutely mandatory, I often refrained from using this tool when making presentations. Even when defending my Master's Thesis (the research that inspired the creation of SoJo) I didn't use slides.
When delivering presentations on SoJo or hosting workshops on Ideas - into - Action, I've only recently started to use slides -- that too with stickmen and cartoons. In the countless meetings held over the past 2 years, I never used slides to explain SoJo either. I like to believe I'm a much more engaging presenter than a static slide, and as such preferred to lead more free-flow conversations. Now that SoJo is actively looking for money and soliciting the support of other people to help us in this quest -- I don't have the luxury of personal contact with everyone on their initial introduction to SoJo. As such have been creating overview/backgrounder documents to do the talking on my behalf.
Despite my reluctance to embrace Powerpoint in the past, I quickly started to love using this tool. I'm particularly appreciative of the flexibility and ease of moving around boxes and different types of content make my documents look more visually appealing.
Although I now have a newfound appreciation for slides as an effective form of communication, I still don't think a slide deck can ever replace a real conversation. Slides can serve as a great complementary support, as they allow the audience to visually capture key takeaway ponits, but should never be the focus. I already shared my first deck to a couple of people and hope to use a different one with the handful of meetings scheduled next week. Let's see if I'm able to use the deck effectively, or if I refer back to my comfort zone and lead a more free-form conversation...
Excerpt from SoJo's latest overview slide deck
Menu bar that mysteriously lost all its formatting
Who is Murphy anyways? What did he do to be forever immortalized as the thing and/or person that countless people curse at, on a regular basis?
Our beloved Product Lead Jesse is on a vacation in Europe for the next 2 weeks. He handed off the SoJo in working condition, yet surely enough if something were to go wrong, it would go wrong while he is away and inaccessible. I found too many unpleasant surprises this morning, that I stopped counting. I'm not in total shock, as Friday afternoon we experienced some problems and SoJo's been having issues for the past couple of months with its theme, further making me convinced that there is a ghost manipulating our website. Jesse has been incredible at consistently fixing these problems in such a timely manner -- its easy to feel helpless and lost in this dire time of need.
Your patience and tolerance is requested for the following reasons:
If the SoJo site takes a little longer to load
If some pages on SoJo look a little off
If you stumble across a broken link (we have over 60 of them)
Rest assured that myself and our team is trying our best to point out the issues and are actively troubleshooting accordingly.
My ability to stay calm in stressful situations has been tested multiple times. It is painful to have such obvious errors appear on a public site, and I'm trying my best to keep my cool. I hope to not jynx myself, however know that things could be much worse and am thankful that SoJo is working at 80% functionality right now.
Thanks for your understanding. I wonder if Murphy is secretly a brilliant person who has been trying to teach us a lesson all along... problems are inevitable, the true test is our ability to rationally deal through them?
SoJo has been running lean
since inception. I often take a step back with awe, thinking about all that was accomplished with no external funding. Bootstrapping a venture comes with tradeoffs and compromises. SoJo's beta site was initially hosted on one of our team member's servers to save costs. At the time it felt redundant to pay for hosting fees when there was trusted and freely available resource. SoJo has since migrated to a dedicated server, recognizing the need for full control, however outstanding files were on our original shared server. Since we do not own the server, we do not have full access to it. Our former team-mate is currently travelling in rural China with limited access, and getting access has been a challenge.
It is incredibly frustrating to move a product forward when there are bottlenecks that are completely beyond your control. An issue as simple as access has definitely slowed down the entire development team. This lesson has taught me to think long-term when making immediate decisions. It is impossible to foresee every possible implication of a decision, but understanding the risks upfront can help to make more informed decisions.
All things considered, given my limited knowledge and our resources at the time I think I made the right decision accept full responsibility for the unintended consequences that we are now facing. As the stakes increase however, we need to make more informed and well thought out decisions, as potential risks also increase exponentially.
At a time when everyone on our development team is frustrated, I must be particularly understanding to their situation, readjust expectations and ensure their negative energy does not get bottled up. To keep my peace, I go back to our core values
, and remind myself that we must embrace imperfection...
Disclaimer: What I'm about to share is highly experimental and is not grounded in any theory or practice.
SoJo has many exciting product development decisions to make. Based on early insights from the strategic planning process, SoJo needs to improve the navigation, usability and interface of the public site. In parallel to making these improvements, SoJo is building its first-ever enterprise-level software product. The stakes are much higher now, and decisions have greater implications. I was able to guide the team to building a content site using a Wordpress framework in its most basic functionality. This next phase of growth is much more complex, and beyond our current capacity.
SoJo has great development team. When given proper direction and structure, they are able to execute above and beyond. That being said, both developers are fairly junior and SoJo is the largest technical project either of them has worked on. Trial by fire has been our methodology thus far, however it can be a hindrance in moving SoJo forward. The entire organization needs to work at a more accelerated pace to achieve these next set of milestones.
When seeking advice, my challenges around the gap that exists between translating business requirements into functional requirements, the need for a CTO (Chief Technical Officer) came up quite often. Most successful technology companies are co-founded by a technical person, who becomes the CTO. Bringing on an external CTO at this stage of our development will be challenging. We have no intentions of selling SoJo for millions of dollars in the coming years, and the financial payout seems be to be a large motivator to attract good senior technical talent.
Technical recruitment has always been a challenge. Linus
joined SoJo right before major product launches. For the past 8 months, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for a technical partner
. After 3 intense and focused months of searching for a technical team member
, I've learned that effort will not always equal result. With the inability to offer a 6-digit salary and a highly competitive market, finding the right person will remain an ongoing challenge for us.
SoJo is in a conundrum where it needs a CTO to grow, however is unable to find one -- therefore the only logical solution is to create one. To fill its technical deficiencies, SoJo will be crowd-sourcing its CTO. This is highly experimental in nature. I have not found any successful case studies and I am still figuring out what it will look like.
Traditionally, crowd sourcing implies reaching out to the public for assistance. In this case, I will be reaching out to a closed network, seeking referrals to source individuals looking to commit their skills and experience to SoJo. Since SoJo is not building any unique technology, all development related activities can likely be covered by our existing development team. What we need instead is support in project management, information architecture, decision making and industry insights. Most of these skills come from experience, and so it makes sense to leverage the experience of many professionals, most of whom can complement one another. In addition to benefiting from the skills and expertise of experts in their respective fields, not having someone in the daily grind of the business can also provide fresh perspectives.
Product vision and business requirements will continue to come from me, so the crowd-sourced CTO will be used for technical guidance.
This approach is highly risky for many reasons: Lack of ownership and accountability
SoJo will not the first priority of any of the individuals. Being a secondary activity, they may not dedicate the mental energy or time required for this role. A dedicated CTO invests in the company, both with their time and expected payoff. It will be difficult to hold a crowd-sourced CTO accountable to the advice that they provide, as the consequences of their advice may not directly impact them. Beyond goodwill and the opportunity to shape an organization with huge potential for impact, there is not much more that I can offer to our crowd-sourced CTOs in terms of compensation. Effectively communicating the problem
A crowd-sourced CTO will not be able to get into the trenches or depth of problems. Only someone that works on a project day-in and day-out will understand all of the intricacies of certain technical issues and implementation problems. When only providing incomplete information, we risk getting incomplete or misleading advice. Fragmentation
With multiple brains giving out different pieces of advice, it is likely that we will receive conflicting and incomplete advice. Distinguishing between everyone's bias can result in a lot of inefficiencies or lead us down a wrong path. Similarly, the different features and technical elements to our products are all intrinsically linked. Each crowd-sourced CTO will likely look at their own issues in isolation. Without taking into account the technical inter-dependencies of each of the solutions, it is possible that solutions to one problem create bigger problems elsewhere.
Having a dedicated CTO will free me completely of all technical related activities. With less focus on the product, I'll be able to dedicate my time to equally important CEO-type activities, such as getting funding, building the brand and supporting other functions of the organization. In addition to coordinating the schedules of the CTOs I will still be primarily responsible for relaying that guidance to the technical team.
Risks considered, I'm quite excited about going ahead with crowd-sourcing SoJo's CTO. This could be an experiment gone wrong, in which case we know that we exhausted every option. On the other hand, this can potentially be a new model for what is possible, given limited resources.
Rebecca (far left) working with the team at the office
It is with great pleasure that I announce and welcome Rebecca Panja, SoJo's newest developer. She is working with SoJo part-time as an Associate Developer, working on both front-end and back-end development of SoJo's web-based products. A fresh Computer Engineering grad, Rebecca is excited to get her feet wet in the start-up world and have her mark on building technology that will positively impact society. Rebecca found her way to SoJo through a chain of referrals (quite serendipitous may I add). Although we had no posting at the time she approached SoJo, I was immediately impressed by her enthusiasm and knew we would make an opportunity for her with the team.
Rebecca joined SoJo eager to learn and further develop her skills, and her first couple of days with SoJo already proved that possible. Within the first week of joining our team, she has taught herself how to use our back-end framework, created front-end updates to the Public site, entrusted with the responsibilities for handing technical user feedback queries, and researched and built the public site's first forum. Given how much she was able to accomplish in her first week, I can only be thrilled for what lies ahead.
This newest edition to team SoJo is exciting for two reasons:
Our development team is growing. SoJo has an ambitious roadmap of what needs to be achieved through its products. Technology has historically been one of our greatest challenges. Rebecca's skills and energy will accelerate SoJo's development plans, getting us closer to achieving our organizational objectives.
Rebecca is SoJo's first female developer. She was invited to join the team because of her skills and attitude, however it is an added bonus that she happens to be a female. Women are seriously under-represented in technology; a fact that I find unfortunate. Having female technical talent on our team will bring added diversity and fresh perspectives. There is no doubt that the quality of our work will increase as a result.
Welcome aboard Rebecca!
In this age of instant connections, one of the most important tools for turning your idea into action is the ability to connect to the people that matter, communicate ideas clearly, and respond quickly to feedback. As SoJo continues to grow, we need to ensure that we too have the tools needed to communicate with and respond to our users quickly and effectively. With that in mind, SoJo is excited to announce two of its most recent new partners, Viafoura and HitSend. Both partners will be working to help SoJo strengthen its infrastructure through their cutting edge communication management tools. Viafoura
is an audience engagement platform that adds advanced social functionality to websites and mobile applications. After researching different platforms, Viafoura's came out on top because of its features. By partnering with Viafoura, SoJo will enable our users to comment on multimedia including video, link their comments directly to different articles, increase interaction and provide an overall enhancement of social features to grow SoJo’s community.
, through its community feedback tool Soapbox, creates a common place to input ideas and gather together as one large voice to suggest, vote, and filter ideas based on what the community wants as a whole. SoJo is being co-developed by our users. We actively encourage you to use the Feedback tool on the side of every page, to tell us what you like, don't like, and want to see changed or improved. By partnering with HitSend, SoJo will be able to easily sort through the ideas prioritized by you, the users, and act on what people really care about.
SoJo is very excited to welcome both partners into the SoJo community as we continually work to improve our products for our users.
In a start-up, there is lots to do. With only a few people involved, skills don't always match what is currently need to be done. With the upcoming launch 5 days away, and super limited resources (time and human capital), everyone is expected to do their part to achieve communal goals.
Since joining the team, Victor has been monitoring user behaviour online via various analytics tools. As of this week, he is also now working with the content team to get the Toolbox in top shape before the re-launch. He just completed part one of sourcing all of the tools, he now has to put them online. The Toolbox is one of the only sections on the new site that remains in HTML (the other sections have templates, making it easier for editors to add the content).
Victor has never worked in HTML, but because he updated the Toolbox he is best positioned to transfer all of that content online. So, I decided to invest the time to train him on the basics of HTML. Over the course of our conversation, not only was I able to instruct him on the basics of coding logic, but that he very painlessly understood it all, and quickly.
What started as a leap of faith has since translated into great relief, as I am now reassured that the Toolbox will be complete in time for the launch. Moreover, I was overwhelmed with pride for two reasons:
(1) SoJo has an incredibly smart team, with people who are able to learn how to code in one afternoon!
(2) A year ago, I knew nothing about web languages and prior to SoJo avoided almost everything to do with technology. I now find myself able to teach basic programming skills, even virtually over Skype. When you are working towards achieving such a large vision, it is difficult to see the little wins/progresses along the way. Today is a living testament to how much I've grown through SoJo.
In start-up everyone must often wear multiple hats. All of them may not fit on the onset, however that should not stop you from learning how to make them fit. You may be surprised to see what is possible.
Screen shots of both computer screens side-by-side via Skype
Announced at SoJo's team meeting this weekend, SoJo's next product launch will take place on June 28, 2012. We deliberately launched a bare-bones, half-developed Beta on November 26, 2011
with the goal of getting a product on the market. Over the past 7 months, we've collected a lot of feedback from the 1000s of individuals actively using SoJo, grown our team and have a much clearer understanding of the direction of the product implementation plan. It is time that we move into our next phase of development. What can you expect in SoJo v2.0?
The overall design and layout will look the same. New category pages will be added, enhancing the navigation and making it easier to find relevant content. 100s of new articles and videos will be added online. The Getting Started section, which was never addressed in the initial launch, will be an interactive and comprehensive starting point for users who seek additional guidance.
The biggest changes will actually occur on the back-end of the website. The public Beta was assembled in a very ad-hoc fashion. No one on the team had experience with the platform, and we were all forced to teach ourselves
the necessary skills to bring the product together. The site was deliberately built in that manner, as we had a deadline to meet, and a site needed to go live. That being said, I am extremely proud of public Beta and the team
that worked around the clock to bring it together. We have since recruited the necessary talent and will optimize the backend code, so that the platform has a more robust foundation moving forward. The most noticeable difference for the users will be faster load times, and an overall better user experience. Decision to leave BETA behind
SoJo is guided and co-created by our users, and changes will continuously take place. The word BETA
is often attached to products that are still under development. Although we will always be "under development" the decision to drop BETA was more strategic. SoJo currently offers a lot of value to its users, and I am confident that it will add even more value after this new release. By calling ourselves Beta, in many ways we are downplaying our strengths and what we offer presently. We can hide behind the word BETA forever, however it is time we put ourselves out to the world, an truly embrace imperfection.
SoJo will be more vulnerable to criticism and attacks, as expectations will inevitably increase. SoJo tells our community to Opt for Courage over Fear
; this is exactly what we are doing. We have less than 4 weeks to bring this together, wish us luck!