Lin Clark on the Release of Drupal 7

After being three years in the works, Drupal 7 was launched at the beginning of January. In that time there have been numerous changes and improvements which can be perused in the Drupal code changelog. We asked Lin Clark, who gave us an introduction to Drupal in a previous article entitled ”Lin Clark On Why Drupal Matters” to tell us a little more about this new release.

“From the user standpoint there is a new user interface that is a lot easier to work with. If you are a developer there are just innumerable ways that Drupal 7 makes your experience better, more enjoyable and exceptionally powerful. You can do impressive things in not very much time. For me, it takes about half the time to do the same thing in Drupal 7 that it took in Drupal 6.

“It moves a lot of the things that you used to have to write in this procedural code where you tell the computer exactly how to do things into what is called declarative code where you just say, “I want to do x and y.” You don’t have to tell it how to do it. Drupal takes care of all of the ‘how you do that.’ You just write in a few lines of code and it does this really neat stuff.

“When you download Drupal, the package itself, there is a core set of modules that as soon as you run the installation they are enabled. You can interact with them. If you want to do different things then you download different modules and plug-ins.

“You used to have to download somewhere between five and ten modules to get good image handling. That’s now part of core and it is really easy to do.

“Being a part of core is good because it means that you have the attention of the whole community on these bits of functionality. It also means that they are more stable, they are not going to change so much. It also means that there are a lot of resources, a lot of teaching tools for those parts.”

Why did it take so long?

“One of the things with software projects is they do generally [take longer than expected.] That’s just something about software projects. Even when you are actually finished with coding the requirements you still have to polish it and ensure that it all works together.

“There were issues moving the field system which used to be in contrib into Drupal core because when something moves into core there needs to be an upgrade path. Making an upgrade path between this and the new system was one of the big challenges.”

Should people move to Drupal right away?

“You don’t have to, not yet. If Drupal 6 is suiting you just fine then there’s no reason to change. But there is going to be a certain point where the modules are only going to be developed for Drupal 7.

“If you are starting a new site then you definitely want to start with Drupal 7. But I would say that when you run into something that says you should move to Drupal 7 then that is when you should move. You shouldn’t necessarily jump on it just to jump on it.”

If you are interested in Drupal a good place to start would be with Lin’s video tutorials. You can find them on YouTube and at semantic-drupal.com.

Distribution: Part Three on Bringing a Web Application to Market

This is the final part of our series on design, development and distribution — the process of getting a product, specifically a web based application, to market. In the edition that covered design it was pointed out that the first step to making an idea manifest is to think very clearly about what needs could be filled by the technology at your disposal. In development we looked at how we could build that idea out into a functioning entity. In this final part we discuss how we got all this wonderfulness that has taken so much time and effort to create to the people who matter most — the people that might actually want it.

“The first question you have to ask is, “Where are the people you are trying to reach right now?” What blogs are the people you are trying to reach reading and go and talk to those bloggers and try to get them to write articles about you. Buy advertising on their site.

“You can do bizdev deals with companies that are already selling into that channel. You can also do the affiliate model where other people can advertise for you and you pay them based on how many conversions take place.

“You can also provide branded content by providing a monthly or weekly email which shares information about your industry which in turn gets shared around. You are building your brand while you are helping people get information about what is relevant to them.

“A good recent example of sending out emails is Hootsuite. One of the things they started recently was Hootsuite University where they teach people how to use social media tools. Of course, one of the tools they teach people how to use is the Hootsuite application. They are really giving value back to the community but they are also building their brand up for themselves.”

There are other means to let people know about the web application you have built:

  • Search Engine Marketing: Ads appear as part of the search results for the keywords related to your business.
  • Search Engine Optimization: Where you optimize the content on your page to show up as one of the top results when people type in a relevant word.
  • Social Advertising: Advertising on Facebook or other social networks. The opportunity there is to be able to reach to the demographic that most closely resembles the demographic for the people who would care most about your business. 


    “If you were trying to sell t-shirts you would probably look at those people who are 15-25 years old. And if you are t-shirts are do with cars you try and place them on the pages associated with cars on Facebook and so on.”

  • Public Relations: Getting the press and different bloggers writing about you and your company.
  • Promotions and Competitions:There are companies like Wildfire which can help with putting different types of promotions together.

“Another part of distribution is about retention and referrals. How do people talk about your application? Do you make it easy for people to refer? When people land on your page, how do you activate them and get them involved?

“Bizdev, sales and marketing are encompassed within distribution. But these are are all just terms. The reality is, how would the the person who would be interested in your product find out about your product. If they don’t know about it right now then why do they not know about it? How can you reach them?

“It comes back to the we discussed in the articles on design and development. Certain people know the general area of a topic and other people are very good at certain specifics.

“You need to find the man or woman who is best at adwords campaigns, the best person at running social media, the best person to be your community manager and it is not always going to be the same person.

“As an entrepreneur you have to be able to coordinate things in such a way that you get the best people into certain roles.

“You have to recruit the best people for the specific role and you probably aren’t the best person to do all those roles. However, you have to understand all the parts of your business to be able to communicate with the brilliant person who is doing it for you. You have to build a rapport with that person so that they have respect for you and that they know that you have respect for them.

“People will share good things. If people like something they will tell their friends about it and share it. That is how things really go viral. With Groupon people see this good deal and then they post it on Facebook and say, “Who wants to come kayaking with me?” Then their friends sign up. It is a simple sharable concept with instant gratification.

“All this stuff together is distribution — there is no silver bullet. With a lot of web applications you have to do many, many things.”

Video

You can watch Fergus give a talk on design, development and delivery from his presentation at BlogTalk 2010 in Galway last year.

Special thanks to Dave McClure for letting us use the main image in this article.

Crowdgather: The Importance of Forums on the Internet

Sanjay Sabnani is the chairman and CEO of Crowdgather, a network made up of over 65,000 forums generating over 90 million page views per month and 4.5 million visitors a month.

Back around 2005 Sanjay looked at all the press in terms of valuation of user generated content sites and social networks and realized that forums seemed to have very valuable content, very strong ties between the members and really no love from the mainstream community. We asked him why he thought that might be?

“For some reason there seems to be a general reluctance amongst advertisers to advertise on user generated content. You have to message down to the individual and to the small groups. Back in the nineties that was not how it was done. The manufacturers and advertisers wanted to control the message and did not have any dynamic feedback in their approach where they could learn from their users.

“That’s all changed now and we are already started to see traction. We have grown from 12 million page views a month last year to 90 million page views a month.”

But haven’t social media sites subsumed the role of forums?

“There is a substantial difference between forums and social media. At the same time there is a huge amount of ignorance about forums and their place in the eco-system.

“I believe that Twitter and Facebook are the training wheels of the true, deep internet experience.

“On forums most people use imaginary user names. Who you are in the real world, how big your bank balance is, how pretty or handsome you are does not matter on a forum. What matters on a forum is the worth of your intellect, the merit of your thoughts and your ability to communicate them.

“Unfortunately, they are not very pretty. There are legacy issues in how pretty they can be made because of how arcane the software is. But if you look at them for what they are — as vehicles for many to many communication — they are the best applications of many to many interaction.

“Facebook is not many to many. It is me and my friends and at any given time it’s me communicating with my friends or me participating in the communication of my friends. We are never all in it together because I may not have friends that overlap your group of friends.

“Forums are designed for a multiplicity of people to communicate with a multiplicity of people and they are done in an organized fashion with a taxonomy that makes sense.

“If you go to a standard forum you will find an index. There’ll be be a section that has an introduction for new members and a section to put your complaints. You’ll find the subject you are interested in is broken down into various sub-headings. It is very easy to find the information and, specifically, the conversation that you are looking to create or participate in.

“What forums allow you to do is the sum total of everything you can do on the internet.

“On a good forum you can read a review. You can have a member do a tutorial on how to jailbreak a phone or how to hack something. You can have your typical Q&A threads. You can post a question to the community. You can also share. There are very few places that have this aggregate of knowledge.

“Facebook allows you to share social linkages. You see pictures of your friend’s new born child and you get to congratulate them. Linkedin captures your work history; who you have worked with and the chronology of your work experience. Twitter allows you to broadcast to your followers.

“There is nowhere else [besides forums] on the internet where your passions, your hobbies and your knowledge base is sufficiently given credit for.”

Apart from being a powerful advocate for forums Sanjay also runs Crowdgather as a business.

“We are focused on what is unique about forums. In the meantime we pursue an acquisition and advertising driven business strategy because in order to get to our dreams we need to have a day job. Get bigger, charge more for ads and give advertisers access to the constituents they are looking for.

“The software that we are developing seeks to expand on this folio and create a system that allows all forums to be interlinked so this history and this collective knowledge base can be better utilized and accessed by the masses that are now cutting their teeth of Twitter and Facebook.

“Forums are highly valued by search engines. You take any other form of social media; you take a blog, you take Facebook, you take Twitter, what is the policing mechanism on the links posted in those types of sites? It’s zero.

“On a forum if you showed up as a new member and in your first several posts there were links to a commercial product you would be ridiculed, insulted, banned and the link would be removed.

“Forums are the only class of site other than Wikipedia type sites that has a built-in peer review mechanism. Search engines have already looked at and identified this process as a very powerful form of curation of good answers. There is a framework of well-understood conduct that you must abide by.”

Forums, with their roots in the pre-internet days of networked modems, are the largest repository of high value, user generated content on the internet. Despite their somewhat unfashionable status it is impossible to imagine a worthwhile or particularly useful internet existing without their presence.

Forums might never be cool enough to have movie like “The Social Network” made about them but with people like Sanjay as advocates there is a chance that they might receive a bit more love and respect than they do at present.

Jerry Clifford: The Power of the Endeavour Program

Last week we gave a brief outline of the Endeavour program in our article Endeavour: New Program for 2011. Since then we have had the opportunity to talk in depth to Dr. Jerry Clifford, Head of Development at the Institute of Technology Tralee, one of the founders of the program.

To recap: Endeavour is part of a series of business programs that are aimed at different age groups.

  • The Junior Entrepreneur Program which is for children of 11-12 years old.
  • The Young Entrepreneur Program for students in their transition year, 16 years plus.
  • The Endeavour Progam which is launchpad for startups.

How successful was last year’s Endeavour program?

“When we looked at it, Endeavour last year was a huge success. We worked with some fabulous companies. Probably the top start up companies that are around in Ireland at the moment. Companies like Datahug, Gaelforce and tapmap amongst others.

“These companies on the basis of rounds of funds almost secured or rounds of funds actually secured have a collective valuation in excess of €10 million. This is not the companies themselves giving you figures out of the air. These are figures based on people pumping money into these companies.

What will be different this year?

“We review everything we do as we are going through it and at the end of the year. We visited a number of incubator programs in New York and in Silicon Valley – particularly Y-Combinator and Plug and Play.

“We got a huge amount of things right and a critical component was the ability to bring in one to one mentoring. This year we are back with a revised program where we have two phases:”

  • Phase One is a short seven week program which runs concurrently in Dublin and in Kerry. This requires a commitment of one evening a week for six weeks and then one Saturday for all the day. For each of those evenings there are going to be two entrepreneurs and one professional advisor covering all the topics that are key to developing a startup business.
  • Phase Two is a five month intensive program working with national level mentors. Each participant on this part of the program will have a dedicated mentor. There are also mentor teams overseas in New York, Silicon Valley and Asia. We have also partnered with Plug and Play in the Valley to be able to access their expertise.

“We want to get as many people as possible on to Phase One but mentoring capacity is the limiting factor for accepting people on to Phase Two.

“These companies that participate are going to get every single chance to accelerate their progress as they go through the program.

“The corporate partner, Kerry Group, have really come on board. Kerry Group is probably the ultimate Kerry start up. They started off in a caravan with two or three guys and now have a market capitalization of around €4.5 billion. They are putting their resources behind Endeavour not only fiscally but also with expertise in large scale international business.”

How does something like Endeavour fit into the larger Irish tech scene?

“Endeavour shouldn’t be looked at on it’s own. It should be regarded as being a part of a suite of initiatives which resulted in Kerry being the European Entrepreneurial Region of the Year in 2011.

“There is a community motivation from this perspective in having enhanced economic activity in your community. We have 2,500 students in this college. We have to ensure that this talent is retained in the County so that they can feed back to the next series of entrepreneurs. They are the ones who are going to make Ireland a better place.

“If Ireland is to have a future, I think it is Irish grown companies that are absolutely going to be that future. Irish companies that are trading internationally right from the get-go and not focused solely on the domestic market.”

Applications for the program close on the 26th of January. There are plenty of spaces still available. As Jerry says, “The critical message that we do want to get out is; fantastic if you have an idea, fantastic if you have a startup but for the people who don’t just want to have a job but they want to have a career by working with an innovative startup then absolutely they should get involved.”

Wavebob: Generating Power from the Movement of Waves

Wavebob is a device that floats in the sea and converts the movement of waves into electricity. The average electrical output of an individual unit is around 500 Kilowatts. That is enough energy to provide power for three to four hundred houses every day. A small city such as Galway, with just over 25,000 households, would only require a wave farm of between eighty and a hundred Wavebobs to provide it with sufficient electricity for its domestic needs.

According to SETIS, the European Commission’s information system for strategic energy technology, wave generated energy could supply Europe with roughly 1% of its power requirements by 2020.

Wavebob was founded Irish physicist William Dick in 1999. By 2007 it became apparent that the company needed to scale to be able to bring the product to a commercial reality. It was at this point that Andrew Parish, an environmental chemist who had worked in the public and private sectors and who at the time was running his own management consultancy joined Wavebob to help create and lead the management team.

How did things look in 2007?

“I joined at a time when we had just had our first sea trials in Galway Bay. We had started to attract some international attention by virtue of the fact that we had a sea-going demonstrator and a track record of R&D prior to that.

“My task was to formalize the company. We opened an office in Maynooth which was convenient for Dublin and for accessing the highway to Galway where we were doing the sea trials.

“We have an office in the United States and our operation over there has recently started to bear fruit for us. We have just recently got a $2.4 million grant from the Department of Energy for the work we are doing there. That builds on grants that we have secured here in Ireland of €2.2 million and a European Commission Framework grant of €5.1 million.

“We have been quite successful at maximizing financing from the public sector over the last couple of years. This is very important as it has been a time when the global economic conditions have been such that investment in new pre-revenue technology has been challenging. Trying to find the right investors with the right kind of appetite for this has been challenging.

“Having the endorsement of significant public sector funding partners has been important in bringing in new investment. But we also have been very successful in attracting large corporate companies to work with us.

“We have brought together a world-class team of engineering expertise into the company. We realise we can’t develop a commercial product on our own. So, instead of growing 50, 60, 70 people internally we have built a small, very talented, expert team and we collaborate with third parties in areas where they would have greater expertise.”

The green-tech energy sector is growing in importance and is clearly vital for all our futures. But good ideas and technology are not always enough for success. How do you manage the non-technical development for Wavebob?

“The opportunity for us has been trying to collaborate with end-users at an early point. Identify who would be our ideal customers and get them working with us now. So, we are developing our product absolutely in line with their expectations.

“We identified key market segments that we wanted to serve:

  • ”Utility scale electricity. A wave farm where you might have one or two hundred megawatts of wave energy devices bringing electricity to shore into the national grid and contributing to renewable energy targets, etc.

    “To that end we have strategic relationships with Vattenfall one of the largest electrical utilities in Europe. We have established a joint venture company with them in Ireland called Tonn Energy which is focused on developing commercial scale wave farms consisting of Wavebob technology off the west coast of Ireland.

  • “We are also engaged with Bord Gáis. They invested with us before Christmas. We also have a technical service agreement with ESB international so we have good, strong relationships with the key utilities.
  • “The other market sector we are pursuing is the off-shore oil and gas sector. Wavebob technology is designed to operate deep water so we can get out to those platforms that are operating in that environment and work effectively. There are a number of oil and gas companies that see the opportunity in reducing their costs by using the renewable energy that surrounds their platforms.”

When are we likely to see these wave farms in operation?

“The industry is still three years away from being commercial. There is a lead-time for putting down the infrastructure for these wave farms; the permit process, the planning, the environmental impact assessments and all the regulatory issues that are involved and which have to be considered.

“Then we have to allow for the fact that the amount of time to procure the cable that brings the electricity back to shore is about eighteen months to two years. The cables are made to order as there are specific requirements for fibre optic cables for communications and so on. Also, at present, there is a global shortage of copper.”

Despite the challenges involved, generating electricity from the movement of waves contains a number of advantages that justify all the effort and costs involved. Designing a device that is expected to function consistently while out in the open sea and be able to survive in that environment for twenty-five years is a work of extreme engineering by any standards.

Apart from issues of sustainability and fulfilling the need for a low environmental impact, wave generated electricity offers a consistency of power generation not found with wind powered devices. There are always waves coming in along the west coast of Ireland. It is this combination of sustainability and consistency that makes the generation of electricity by means of wave power such a vital contributor to our future energy needs.

Fergus Hurley: Developers and Product Development

In the second part of our series on bringing a product to market Fergus Hurley discusses the role of developers in the development stage. He has been, and still is, heavily involved in the development of Clixtr and PicBounce. The first question we put to him is, “Where to start?”

“With development it is crucial to pick your technologies first and stick with them. There are a lot of frameworks for building these web application and when you pick a framework you are by association picking a language that most of your applications are going to be built with. Your developers are going to need to know that language.

Ruby on Rails is very popular right now and that is one that we use. It is a great framework to get you up and running.

“The main thing now with web applications is that there are a lot of libraries available and APIs and gems which is the word they use in Ruby for pre-coded packages that you install in your application. The advantage is that you can leverage this code that other people have written and not have to do it all yourself.

“So the first question is, “What frameworks am I going to use?” The framework is tied to the language but also tied to the gems that are available for what you are trying to do.

“If you are trying to do location based stuff then Ruby on Rails has some gems that you could use but Python has a lot as well. Python is the language that is used in Google. They are pushing out a lot of stuff and they will be pushing out even more so that is something to take into account.

“Python is the number one priority language for Google and the framework for building applications in Python is Django. So, if you want to work with their service you will have to build your application in Python.”

How much code does an entrepreneur need to know?

“As with design the entrepreneur needs to understand development as well. They need to be able to look at the code and ideally, be able to write some code themselves. If you look at most successful web companies like Twitter and Facebook, most, if not all, of the founders and early employees were able to do development themselves.

“However, development is not rocket science and people need to start learning the development process themselves. I would say the first step is to learn Ruby on Rails and before that you need to learn to use the Ruby language. To be able to use Ruby effectively you need to learn how to program. Those are steps of the process of learning to code.“

If you are not a great developer yourself then how do you find one who is?

“Finding brilliant people is always the hardest part and finding great developers is extremely difficult. Your first step would be to ask your friends. Ask them who they worked with in the past that has been brilliant and that might be able to work on some stuff.

“What I found that has worked well for us and has worked well for a lot of friends is to attend a lot of these developer events like Hackathons and work with some developers there.

“Maybe the entrepreneurs might not be brilliant developers themselves but they get to work with these developers and they can get to really see who are the best ones. Then they get them to work on some side project with them and then over time they become full-time people.

“You really have to network to get the best developers in the world and they are really hard to get.”

What are the cost factors to look out for in development?

“The cost of development has gone way down which means that your cost of development is your developer. With Amazon services you can be up and running in half an hour with a full website and a full hosting environment on a dedicated server if that is what you want. You can scale it up and down with a click on your computer. You don’t have to pay for the licences and servers and so on.

“A really awesome developer, like a really awesome designer, can do way more in a short space of time then a newbie who doesn’t know anything. If someone has built an application that is very similar to your one before then they will have made a lot of mistakes along the way. So, when they build it the second time, the third time, the fourth time, they are going to be way more efficient and know which mistakes to avoid.

“Most of the time-sinks in development are when you don’t know the solution to the problem that you are trying to solve. You have to spend hours googling, going to stack overflow, going online to Quora and other different websites, messaging your friends, messaging helpdesks and so on, trying to find an answer. A great, experienced developer can help you bypass a lot if not all of that.”

What should we keep in mind for the future?

“Development of web applications has got much easier over the years but building mobile applications is really where there is a huge shortage of developers and there is going to be a lot of opportunities there. A lot of developers are going to be moving over to mobile because every company in the world is going to need to have a mobile presence.

“In the web and development space that we have right now we are not really solving that many hard technical problems. I think we are entering a transitionary stage on the web where it is now about design. However, in a couple of years time the development will become more advanced and much more important again.”

Video

You can watch Fergus give a talk on design, development and delivery from his presentation at BlogTalk 2010 in Galway last year.

Mendeley: Creating Connections Between Researchers

Mendeley is a service that provides a tool for researchers to easily comprehend the nature of the readership surrounding a particular academic paper or collection of papers. Not only does it determine the credibility of material by means of social proof it also provides reader recommendations which makes it easier to collect and collate a library of material on a given subject.

It was founded by three Phd students in Germany. One of them, Dr. Victor Henning, wanted to be able to look at a paper and see how the citation network connected that paper to the other papers he was researching. It was from this initial curiosity that Mendeley evolved.

We spoke to Ian Mulvany the head of New Product Devlopment and asked him, how that original inquisitiveness led to the discovery of the problem which they set about solving.

“From the end user point of view, for the scientist, one of the problems they have in managing their information is that it is a bit of a mess. The academic articles that they access, that they publish, that they download from the web mostly come in the form of PDFs. Managing the metadata around that is painful.

“It’s like you take a highly structured piece of content and you put it through a sausage factory and you end up with this digital object which has practically no metadata associated with it as far as the end user is concerned.

“But there’s another problem which is even bigger. It is not just about knowing the smaller piece of information that you are interested in. The bigger problem is, how does that fit into the bigger global picture of the entire academic content and the entire world of academic literature? How does the article you are reading connect to an article that someone in a different field is reading? How do you know about the other people who are reading the same kind of things you are reading about?

“So what we have done at Mendeley is create a single tool which sits on your desktop and helps you manage your individual articles. We mirror all that activity into the cloud so we can see what people are reading right now and how many people are reading articles on a particular topic. We can also see how many people are reading a particular article. Our vision is to use this user activity around their local usage of PDFs to create connections between researchers.

“The more people that use it, the more crowd sourced the value we generate out of people’s usage. Using our client application as a base we have created the world’s largest search catalogue for academic papers which also gives you social information around the usage of those academic papers.”

How does this compare to what Google is doing?

“Google have a product called Google Scholar which indexes content. But what Google don’t have is access to the individual collections of articles that someone has decided that they are interested in.

“They provide many of the search services and discovery services but they don’t know what people are actually reading. They might know what people have browsed to but once someone has actually got their article Google doesn’t know anything else about them.”

What is the role of the academic publishers in this area?

“They have a lot of really rich information that they could use to generate interesting services on top of the content for scientists. Publishers have full access to the content. If they are looking at their server logs they know who is reading the content. They know who the authors are. But there has been little interest from the publishers in doing that kind of thing.

“From the point of view of the academic publishers it is purely a volume business. They just need to get as much volume out the door and sell subscription packages to libraries. If you look at the bigger publishers it is no longer enough for them to be a content paywall. They need to be providing services rather than just content.”

All networks, social or otherwise, have privacy issues. How do you handle that at Mendeley?

“We anonymize the information around who is reading what paper. The benefit to a user for using our service is if they synchronize their data with our client based service they can keep all of their information synchronized between multiple machines. As soon as the information passes through our servers we know what the reader information is but we anonymize that in the online catalogue.

“If you want to be even more private around your data you can stop information from going up to our cloud but then it won’t sync between the different machines. You can contribute to this online catalogue of usage information without exposing your own personal collection. We don’t identify paper X is read by reader Y. We say, paper X is read by X number of readers. This percentage are in America this percentage are in Europe. This percentage are professors, this percentage are undergraduates.”

Could you give us a brief example of how it might work for a user?

“When people create an account with we ask them for their academic status; undergraduate, graduate, Phd student, professor and so on. We ask them what areas of research are they interested in. We make the aggregates of those attributes around the papers available through our API.

“You could ask the following question through our API, “In the last year, what has been the most read by undergraduates in biological sciences in North America?” Presumably, that is going to be quite a different paper than the most read paper by people who are senior professors. These are the kinds of questions we are enabling people to answer that nobody else is really doing at the moment.”