as the future of TV

Remember that the word TV is used in many ways. This is about how we use TVs: we watch TV & quite often we watch informative, learning channels. is a subscription-based site providing software training through video tutorials structured in courses that are mostly several hours in length. I’ve used the site off-and-on for over ten years, and it’s a great way to learn how to use software from either a beginner level to advanced, in-depth techniques. With over 83,000 videos packed in more than 1,300 courses is truly a fantastic way to learn. Course is not quite the right word. Considering that a topic may be covered in anywhere from 25 minutes to 15 hours the terms class or workshop is more appropriate.

A couple years ago branched beyond software training with additional content that includes creative skills (e.g., design, photography, video production) and even soft business skills (e.g., leading a productive meeting,  becoming a thoughtful leader).  Even more intriguing are the documentaries with typographic artisans, children book illustrators, and other creative topics. has evolved into an entertainment channel, like those specialized channels on cable TV. But with you have the choice of which series to watch & when to tune in. even keeps track of what you watch in case you want to go back and view an episode again. isn’t available through any cable TV package. You subscribe directly on the Website, and it’s not inexpensive with a starting rate of $25 per month. has entered the future of TV without ever promoting itself as such. is a definitive model that can form the basis for other vertical niches. The potential is enormous.

This is the future of entertainment for those who entertain themselves by wanting to learn about the world. Its mixture of educational and documentary programming surpasses anything found on today’s cable TV packages. One step further: is the future of many non-fiction books, particularly the how-to type of book.

Evidence that is onto something big: after many succesful years they just accepted their first round of external funding. With over $100 million to expand, keep an eye on how is transforming online learning into an educational entertainment product.

To get a glimpse as to how plans on utilizing this funding take a look at Robert Scoble’s interview with the founders of, Lynda Weinman & Bruce Heavin.  A few highlights:

Lynda Weinman describes that the new funding will be used in three ways:

  1. expanding content through creating new categories and going deeper into existing categories
  2. improving the delivery platform
  3. expanding internationally

Online learning is a hot market. Lynda says, there are “lots of flavors of online learning….We think we’re in the infancy of this industry & there is a lot of room for a lot of different angles on how to attack the problem, and part of the problem is that we don’t all learn the same way, that we don’t all have the same learning needs. (5:33 mark in the video).

Lynda Weiman had been involved in teaching since the late 1980s. She says it’s all about teaching but now there are different form factors for delivering the instruction. Her partner Bruce Heavin says, “The business model may have changed over the years from writing books, to renting classrooms, to selling VHS cassetts and DVDs, to eventualy making this online library, but the constant was teaching and education.” (23:00)

Note how the starting of rose from Lynda publishing the first book on Web design in 1996, which also was a time when people traveled to attend conferences to learn about new techniques in Web design and development. Scoble describes the quasi-entertainment factor: “Something’s going on here. We used to go to conferences…now we watch TV on our big screens and we can get the same quality. I personally like it a lot better, I have a comfortable seat here, I can stop a video, go get a drink.” Then he glances over to a line of books, “You’re competing with these things. Used to be a I brought a lot of O’Reilly Books.”

Bruce responds, “I don’t know if we’re really competing against books. I think we’re a splinter, kind of like how radio and TV splintered..just splintered different ways to get information….We’re seeing the change where people are going into video and want to see things in their living room and we think that’s huge.” (17:40)

Lynda describes their content that is not training specific, and I suspect this area will get a significant push with their new funding, “Sometimes it’s not the tool at all. It’s how you tell the story, how you make a composition, how you create emotion around something, how you negotiate, how you make something compelling. We’ve actually gotten into these soft skills as well as the tools, as well as inspiring documentaries. We’ve made 30 of them…our members just love that kind of material.” (20:45)

That material fulfills an entertainment need for many us. Learning and entertainment are not incompatible.

Why not tee shirts?

In any talk of books some person in the audience will rise and shout, “No! You’re all wrong. Books are this…” and then proceed to argue for one approach that must encompass all. With a discussion of digital books the argument usually is that all text must be reflowable and that fixed layout is an inherently bad, archaic practice carried over from print. Often inserted is the admonition regarding layout design, “You don’t need it.”

In no way am I ever saying all books should become apps.

In no way am I ever saying that prose is unsuitable.

In no way am I ever saying that reflowable e-books are bad for textual narratives.

In no way am I ever saying that all non-fiction must be comprised of multimedia.

One format doesn’t fit all needs any more than tee shirts fit every occasion.

Sure, a guy with a tee shirt, and likely a beard, is exclaiming somewhere that there’s no reason for anyone to wear anything other than a tee shirt. And, in fact, one could make a reasonable argument that there is absolutely no reason why garments other than tee shirts need to exist. Want to dress up formally? A tee shirt with a fake tux on the front could do. Want a dress? Just wear a long tee shirt. And on and on. But the fashion industry has found a way to carry on and prosper despite the utility and low cost of the tee shirt. The publishing industry will do the same. Likewise, there’s a lot of money to be made in tee shirts; lots of money to be made in reflowable e-books. But we know stories can be told with other garments as well.

Creativity ^ Recording audio with your iPhone

A portable digital audio device is something I need occasionally and have wondered how to use my iPhone for that purpose. Thanks to this week’s free DSLR video tip movie from I learned a couple of quick tips about apps, cables, and external mics for the iPhone.

Plus, I really want to go back and look at all those DSLR video tips from Rich Harrington & Robbie Carman.

External Mics

Audio is only as good as the input. That means you need a good mic. I’ve heard about Blue Mic for a while. The Mikey is customized as a portable mic solution for iPhones & iPads.  It will cost you about $80 – $100, depending upon the retailer. Here’s a detailed review of the Mikey with photos of it attached to an iPhone.


Looks like Pro Audio To Go is the best of breed app for field recording. At $29.99 it’s an expensive app, but an iOS developer myself I can tell you that I’m sure a tremendous amount of work went into that product.  Here’s a review.


Got to have the right cables. I’m always getting confused on line in, XLR and other cable sites. Still looking for a good site that clearly explains what cable to use & when.

a think about | self-publishing like an artisan & an entrepreneur

I’ve not yet read one of Guy Kawasaki’s books but many people have, especially those interested in entrepreneurship & startups. Alan Rinzler over at The Book Deal blog recommends Kawasaki’s latest book: APE, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur . How to Publish a Book.

Rinzler explains that Kawasaki has coined the term artisanal publishing to describe a form of self-publishing where the author lovingly crafts a book without the restrictions of traditional publishing. I wholeheartedly agree with that approach.

I don’t mean for this post to be a promo plug but it’s relevant to this very topic: my wife is a book designer. Her clients are almost exclusively self-published. They all seek her out because they want a particular style cover or page layout. And she stays fully booked (which is why she hasn’t blogged in almost two years). I’ve closely observed the process and interaction between her and the authors. Many of those authors are clearly entrepreneurs and have been successful with their books (as success is defined by them). Others have been a bit naive about the challenges of marketing. It’s clear in their discussions with the designer that these authors really care about making a wonderful book. All of them embrace the spirit of artisanal publishing. And, I have to say, that my wife is pleased and satisfied to give them a lovely designed book.

Any great product takes a team, finally. Often the author, though, isn’t the best person to manage that process. Some authors can’t make decisions or they want to try everything. That brings up where the author needs to act like an entrepreneur. Self-publishing is a process that needs to be managed. Craft your book, be careful about who you hire, but trust the professionals you engage to aid you in the publishing process.

That brings up Rinzler’s lament that Kawasaki doesn’t even bring up the topic of a developmental editor. I totally agree with Rinzler about the importance of a developmental editor. Unfortunately, many self-published authors are so emotionally invested in the manuscript they’ve written that they feel almost offended if an editor suggests changes. Sadly, that’s the behavior of an inexperienced writer (the very kind that most needs a developmental editor). Authors – listen up: an editor simply wants to help you make your book better. Really.

Understanding the possibilities: a key for strategic positioning

Ten years ago I wrote an article titled Understanding the Possibilities: A Key for Strategic Visioning. (The article is behind an expensive paywall if you’re not in academia, but if you’re really interested contact me and I’ll send you the text.)

2002 represented the ten-year mark in my career. I’m now at the twenty-year mark of my professional life, having transferred from managing library technology in a higher education environment to working with Internet-based startups.

That article reflected on the formation of my career as a librarian. My exposure to the early Internet before the Web existed, the days when a young technophile got excited by command-line tools such as Telnet & FTP that offered access to, what seemed at the time, like an amazing set of databases and documents.

I want to quote a couple of paragraphs from that article:

“Catching my attention one summer day in 1991 was a message that came across PACS-L titled “Strategic Visions White Paper: Librarianship, the Profession — Prelude to its Future”. Reading this message that summer while in library school helped me decide what type of librarian to become: one who embraced the challenges of leveraging technology that held the promise of developing new ways of accessing information resources and offering new services that matched the evolving needs of students and faculty. This focus became so ingrained in my thinking that it has defined my outlook on the profession.

“From this point everything I did as a librarian became a manner of understanding the possibilities. Innovative uses of technology come about when people see new ways of using the tools. These insights usually are made only once one understands the possibilities of the technology. An important role for librarians is to help others understand how technology can be used to enhance the spread of scholarship. But librarianship is not about technology. The academic librarian of today and the future can help faculty develop digital resources that offer students new means of utilizing information. Understanding the possibilities of being a librarian requires taking risks, trying something different, exhibiting the courage to fail, and learning from shortcomings in order to improve efforts for the next initiative.”

Though I’m no longer a librarian these thoughts still drive many of my efforts in thinking how digital publishing. Ultimately, my work is never about the technology but the story being told.

The years ahead: 2013 – 2030

Tomorrow, on the second day of the year, my daughter turns two. Like most parents my life is consumed by caring for her, preparing her for life, & thinking of her future. I’m fascinated by the type of world she’s going to encounter, the aspects that won’t change very much, and those that will shift dramatically. Technology, due to its very nature, will be very different seventeen years from now when she’s in college (if colleges, as we know them, still exist then…I have my doubts about higher education). Fundamental to my own professional interests–as a former librarian, as a software developer, as a writer, as a reader–is understanding how we tell and read stories (particularly non-fiction) in digital media. The future trajectory of my daughter’s life is the lens through which I view the changing shape of creativity, learning, and leisure in the early twenty-first century. And that’s the very reason I care deeply about the topic.

Here at the beginning of 2013 is a good point to re-read two posts I wrote in years past. These are guide points for me that I come back to again and again:

In re-reading those posts again I find my professional passion expressed in those words. For 2013 I must dedicate myself to further examining what I described as the real burden upon all of us: ensuring that “tomorrow’s writers & editors understand the elements of style required for creating the publications that will dominate the mid-century“.

The photos we keep

I received an urgent message from my sister on the morning of November 2. I called her immediately and learned that our mother had died from a sudden heart attack.

During the next few nights and after the funeral I stayed alone in my mother’s apartment sorting through the accumulation of materials that are left behind after such times. We had to empty out the apartment, so that meant deciding what to keep, what to give away, and what to toss in the trash.

Going through the family photos I made digital copies with my iPhone, not the best means of digitizing but time & available technology was limited. At least I came away with copies of all the family photos. Of course, I took a fair share of the originals, particularly most of those that included me. The rest were divided among my sister and brother.

However, many, many photos were not in albums but stored in those envelopes that you receive after developing film. Many of these were snapshots taken by my mother, or myself as a young teen, on vacation. They were of nothing special…landscapes, buildings, sunsets and the like. And there were no particular quality to those images. A few older photos captured an aspect of my hometown: a building that no longer stands, a street corner that has changed considerably. Those photos I set aside for preserving. Generally, though, I only kept the photos of people in my family.

Seldom in my life have I wanted photos made of me. Camera shy and before the onset of digital cameras resulted in an explosion of everyday photos of ourselves, there exists only a small number of photographs of myself from the 1980s and 1990s. Many more from the ’70s when I was a boy since my mother often took photos of me. Previously I never understood why people took photos of others or themselves in front of this spot or that place. But now I do. At the end of life those are the photos we cherish. Those are the photos that bring back memories. 


This is not the best photo of my mother but it raises a vivid memory of an all night drive back from Louisiana to our home in middle Tennessee in 1989. In the middle of the night, around 3am, we passed through Memphis. My mom was driving and I was barely awake. Always a huge Elvis fan she saw a sign for Graceland from the highway and decided to take a detour despite the early morning hour. We had even visited Graceland about seven years earlier…done the whole tour..jungle room, museum, gravesite. But this middle of the night stop was more meaningful.

A few other devoted fans had the same idea, and they mingled in front of the gate. My mom and I got out of the car and wandered along the stone fence while reading the thoughts people had written on the wall surrounding Graceland.

That particular trip to Louisiana was not very good, a painful period in our lives. But there existed a few moments outside Graceland that brought a smile to my mother’s face as I took that photograph of her. And a sweet feeling emerges within me as I view photos of her from my youth. That’s the way I shall always remember her.

Defining a startup around Google’s Project Glass

Scoble has another one of his excellent interviews online. This one is with two managing directors of Menlo Ventures. Lots of insights for entrepreneurs. View the video on YouTube.

At just past the 11 minute mark Scoble asks, “Is it too early to pitch a company just for these wearable computers, Google’s Project Glass?”

Considering that the Glass product might now ship till 2014 Shawn Carolan responds, “Here’s what you don’t want to count on: is if the only place to make any money and build intellectual property is once the glasses start to ship. That’s a way’s off. However, you start to think there’s a lot of apps that very clearly can find some market in mobile and then the market will explode when you get to the glasses. You’ll be interacting with it 24/7 rather than when just open up your phone.”

Startup profile: Foto Ruta

This is the first in a series of profiles about startups.

Foto Ruta is an energetic, young company that offers creative ways for travelers to explore a city while becoming better photographers. Get a taste of their flagship tour by reading about my experience from last weekend. In addition to the weekly tour that covers a different neighborhood each Saturday, Foto Ruta offers a set of creative photography options in Buenos Aires: half day and full day street photography excursions, a half day iPhoneography tour and workshop, a full day post-production workshop on learning Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, as well as custom excursions.

Foto Ruta photography tours Buenos Aires

Founded by Joss Mandryk and Becky Hayes, two expats living in Buenos Aires, this company is much more than the typical expat starts a walking tour business that you see everywhere. Foto Ruta is prepping to go international with franchises in New York and Santiago, Chile in the works. Plus, they planning an iPhone app.

The founders’ backgrounds are visible in the success of the company. Joss is a graphic designer and photographer, and Becky comes from a career as a Marketing and PR Director. That combination is evident in their extremely well design marketing materials:

Foto Ruta marketing materials

To gain a better sense of what drives Foto Ruta, I talked with co-founder Becky Hayes.

What was the spark that gave you the incentive to start this specific company?

We’re both expats living in Buenos Aires and started off as tourists. We fell in love with Buenos Aires but found that tourists who were here for only a few days often missed out on what was great about the city. People who’d heard so much about the city, arrived, spent a few days visiting the main tourist sites and then went away bemused as to why Buenos Aires got such rave reviews from travellers. In other words, it’s a city that requires a bit of time to really appreciate.

We wanted to offer a way to show tourists the greatness of Buenos Aires, such as the crumbling architecture, secret restaurants, passage ways, street art, quirky street life. As photographers we are both aware of the way photography can be a great way of seeing a place and hunting out the unexpected. And so we came up with a concept that would fuse the two…tourism and photography!

Foto Ruta has a solid momentum going, which is hard to achieve in a young company. What was a challenge that you had to overcome to get the company on course?

I’d say as with most start-ups the biggest challenges were financial. We started Foto Ruta with a miniscule pot of money with the hope of growing organically, so we had to work really hard to prioritise expenditure. With our combination of skills we were able to launch the company without having to make huge investments in design/programming and marketing. Foto Ruta managed to get a momentum going fairly quickly towards the end of 2011, which was great but it meant that we grew quite quickly, and what we planned was originally going to be a part time set up, became a full time job (while we were both still having to juggle other full time jobs!). The balance between growing a new company and making it profitable whilst also earning a living is a tough one to manage.

You have a good mix of products that are well defined at varying price points.  Do you have any suggestions for other entrepreneurs on creating a slate of products that offer value to different customer segments, AKA product market fit?

It’s definitely been a bit of a process of trial and error. We began with our lead product Foto Ruta Weekly, a clue based tour that explores a different neighborhood each week. It was this product that we felt had a real unique selling proposition. It was totally unique to us, and, as it’s a tour that supports large groups. We rely on volume, so we can offer it at a very low price. This means it appeals to every type of traveller, and we find due to its uniqueness, it appeals to pretty much every customer segment from budget traveller through to the top end of the market. We also find due to the low price and the explorative/fun nature of the events, it appeals to photographers and non-photographers alike.

Customers meeting before a tour

As Foto Ruta Weekly began to grow we were getting to know our customers and their needs more and more, and realised there was genuine demand for longer, more intense photo experiences. So we launched the full day Academia tour. The idea behind that tour was to take Foto Ruta to the next level by focusing more on technical and practical aspects of photography and showing people some amazing places in Buenos Aires that otherwise they would never get to see. The price point was higher which made the product more niche, i.e. for people who were either photography enthusiasts, or those for whatever reason, were willing to pay a bit more for their experience.

As time has gone on, we’ve realised there is also a middle ground in between those products, so we created the 1/2 day Academia as a more mass market version of the full day. In addition to creating products to fit market, we’ve also created products we feel are relevant and push the boundaries creatively and professionally. e.g. Labs (Photoshop Lightroom course) and iPhoneography.

I can only offer advice to service providing entrepreneurs..and my advice would be:

Know your market and stay nimble. As long as you know your market and have a good solid product, you can tweak everything to adapt to the market as you go. Nimbleness and constant awareness of your market is crucial as its a continuously evolving beast.

Did you always plan to expand beyond Buenos Aires? Or at some point did Joss & you say, “Oh, we’re on to something.” Or did expansion simply come about through opportunity with someone proposing to work together in a different city?

Joss and myself are both quite ambitious and passionate about what we do. As soon as Foto Ruta took off we knew it was always going to be more than just a hobby business. Since the start, we’ve had participants coming us to say ‘oh you must do a Foto Ruta Philippines’ or ‘FR Istambul!’ so we’ve definitely had international ambitions and a ‘hit-list’ of cities we’d love to run Foto Ruta in. New York City was the first overseas pop up we’ve done, it seemed the logical next step because we have contacts over there who were keen to get involved and help us set it up. We’re now also in the process of planning to launch Foto Ruta in Santiago very soon.

Participant in a Foto Ruta workshop

What’s the vision for the company?  How do you envision Foto Ruta growing over the next few years?

Our vision is to continue growing our Foto Ruta roots in Buenos Aires, whilst gradually expanding into new territories and seeing how they go. Our challenges will most likely be, managing the financial unstable environment that exists in Argentina and in terms of expansion, dealing with the huge physical distance between territories!

What’s the business model for expanding internationally?

We’re considering a number of options for expansion. The first being licensing to partners in new territories and the second, franchising the product to franchisees in new territories. We favor the first option initially as we’re keen to maintain control of our product and brand in the early stages of growth.  One of our key strengths is service. We pride ourselves on offering a personal, friendly service and a great customer experience. So at this stage it’s really important we have a tight hold of the reins. However, in order to achieve our future expansion goals, we will look to use the franchise model, and look forward to getting that off the ground within the next year.

Reviewing photos after a Foto Ruta tour

What’s one tip you would give to entrepreneurs who do not have a marketing background?

The most important thing is to know your customer, get into their mindset. For example for a tourist product like ours, I’d ask the following questions: Where are they coming from? What are they reading? Who is influencing their holiday activity decisions? What are their deciding factors for them when booking a tour? Where are they drinking coffee/eating? 

It’s all about maximising opportunities to reach them in their environment.

Will iOS apps for children need to support iPad 1st generation?

The first generation iPad does not support iOS 6. As operating systems evolve it’s not surprising that older hardware is obsoleted. AppAdvice on the matter: Get over it. But is that so easy for a publisher of apps made for children? Developers would prefer to deal only with the latest version of an iOS release. However, if you publish apps for children there’s probably a very high percentage of children who have the first generation iPad. As mom and dad upgrade to a newer iPad then that older model gets handed down.

My 1st generation iPad runs 5.1.1. It’s pretty slow at times, especially when there’s a lot of books in iBooks. Movies run great. No problem there. Some apps are slow to start and some are sluggish. But, still, overall it’s a decent device. And for a young kid it’s a great device.

If children are a significant customer segment for your apps, then you’re likely to be supporting iOS 5.x for a long time. With the hardware limitations of the 1st generation iPad Apple probably didn’t have a choice in leaving it out with iOS 6. But for those selling apps in the children’s market it’s not such an easy decision to abandon that model.