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Playing With Data for Fun and Profit

I've been meaning to share this for a while now. I was asked to talk at Howard University to their digital business class, which focuses on the use of Social Media, Mobile Apps & Platforms, Data Analytics, and Cloud Computing as strategic assets to be utilized in business.

I wasn't really sure what to do, so I decided to tell some stories about how I've used data in my businesses.


I also built a demo to let the students learn about and play with sentiment analysis in real-time. It used the Movie Review corpus from Cornell. It's a very primitive keyword based system but I thought illustrated the concept well.

Sentiment Analysis Demo

Remembering Affinity Lab

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It feels only appropriate to write something today. Today is the first work day I haven't had a place to go work from in about four years.

I joined Affinity Lab at the beginning of 2011. It was the only game in town back then. There was a waiting list and I had to apply for membership. The prospect of working from home was terrifying. I had tried it before and the result was being incredibly unproductive and depressed. Working from home wasn't (and still isn't) an option.

I didn't warm up to Affinity Lab right away. I had an incredibly stressful test drive (a day where you go and spend it there to see how well you like it and how much people liked you). I couldn't parallel park and didn't have enough time to get to a metro with normal parking beforehand. So off I went driving down to U St with hope and a prayer that a really easy parking spot would be somewhere in the vicinity. I had even considered not going because of this.

But I got lucky that day. There was a spot right on the corner I could pull into and Affinity Lab turned out to be the best decision I've made in my DC life.

The test drive was ok, I really don't remember anything that happened day, but it went well enough for me to want to make it a regular thing. Although, I parked in Bethesda and took the Metro in for the next six months or so because of my fear of parallel parking.


Bowling with Pierre, Greg, Berit, Joey, Philippe, Olivia, Stephanie, Ambica, Mike, Sarah, Joe, Grant

The first real day I remember there was bowling night. I was in a space where people were all doing their own thing(s) but collaborating and having fun together. When this photo was taken, I don't think I really knew anyone well. But it was my first chance to really talk to many or most of them. And looking back at the picture now, I keep in touch with nearly all of them despite most of them leaving Affinity Lab in the years since that picture was taken.

Bowling Night was the first of many nights (and for those of you that know me, I only function at night). Movie night (a personal favorite of mine), laser tag night, the annual tubing trip, board game night, happy hours and many others.

Affinity Lab quickly became my social life and friend group, as well as my office. For any fellow entrepreneurs out there, many probably sympathize with the difficulty of maintaining non-entrepreneurial friendships. Your personal life often becomes synonymous with your business life. It's hard to explain or justify it to people who don't get it. I never had to explain or justify it here though. It was implicit. Everyone understood and was going through or had been through the same or similar experiences. I was surrounded by people like me and I was happy.

I met a lot of really amazing people over the 4 years at Affinity Lab. I am lucky enough to consider many of them my good friends. I wouldn't have been able to launch my startup, Review Signal, without the direct and indirect support of the people I met at Affinity. I wouldn't have more than half the clients I've had over the years if it weren't for the mailing list and leads fellow members shared. I'm not sure I would have reached the same level of success in my professional life without Affinity Lab.

So today is an incredibly sad day. Affinity Lab has shut its doors forever and DC has lost an entrepreneurial landmark. The silver lining is that over the past 13 years Affinity Lab had some of the best and brightest minds comes through, learn, share and make the world a better place. It's legacy is now in the hands of those alumni. It's a great responsibility to carry, but if anyone is up to the challenge, it's them.

I've included all the pictures that were running on the slideshow in the lab below to remember what it was like:






















































































Can I live and work from anywhere? An attempt at becoming at digital nomad

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My work view, Koh Lanta, Thailand

I have lived in a few countries and traveled to dozens of others. The idea of living anywhere has always had some appeal to me. I have traveled to a lot of places where I thought, I could live here.

There is this fantasy of having the freedom to live and work from anywhere. Coupled with the technology to communicate nearly instantly, a new trend has emerged: the digital nomad. A location independent worker.

I decided to give the digital nomad lifestyle a trial run this year. I bought a round trip ticket with 3 months of time set aside to travel and very little in the way of plans.

Planning

I started thinking about traveling around September - October 2013. I knew that I wanted to skip most the of frigid winter in Washington, DC (which coincidentally, experienced the worst winter weather in my lifetime). However, I knew that I wanted to spend Christmas with my family and New Years with friends. So, leaving in January made the most sense.

The next question was "Where did I I want to go?" I had been to Thailand on a number of occasions and loved spending time there. I also have family that lives there, which makes going without any plans much easier. Thailand is pretty cheap as far as cost of living goes. There are also gorgeous beaches. The internet is ok and picking up a sim card and 3G plan is quite easy. I also really wanted to do a lot of scuba diving and there is some great diving available there.

I also didn't want to travel alone, so I was planning to travel with a friend (although that part of the trip fell through). I ended up traveling alone and meeting a few new friends during my travels.


Diving Site, Ko Haa Lagoon, Thailand

Preparations

Traveling on a budget is definitely possible in Thailand. The flight was the most expensive part.

I wanted to build up a good cash reserve before leaving. I had no idea what all I was going to get into on the journey, where I would to end up traveling or if I would earn any money along the way.

As soon as I decided that I wanted to travel, I started trying to find any sort of contracting work available. I thought that finding clients and work could also prove to be potentially helpful when traveling if I did want to earn money while I was abroad. Luckily, I also have a startup that earns some money, but I can't simply earn money every day by putting hours into it. Or, at least the correlation isn't as direct and immediate as contracting.

I saved up enough money so that I could live comfortably abroad for at least three months (in reality it was probably closer to a year).

I eventually bought my ticket on January 2 to leave on January 21 and shared my trip on facebook. Right away, a friend of mine told me that he was going to be in Japan at the end of my trip, so I changed my ticket. That turned out to be fortuitous because I was flying through Japan to Bangkok anyways to have a few extra days in Japan on my way back to the US.


View from Tokyo Skytree of Tokyo Tower with Mount Fuji in the background.

Home Base

The idea of a home base while traveling abroad is quite appealing. I was in the very fortunate position that I have family living in Bangkok that I could stay with. My initial thought was to travel around to different parts of Thailand. Having a home base meant I could leave a few things (like winter clothes) at my family's house. I also had a standing invitation to stay there. It certainly took away a lot of the stress about traveling to places I knew nothing about. If anything went wrong, I could simply return back to my Thai home.

Actual Trip

Washington, DC → Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo → Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok → Koh Lanta

Krabi → Bangkok

Bangkok → Koh Samui

Koh Samui → Bangkok

Bangkok → Hong Kong (30 days were up on my visa)

Hong Kong → Macao → Hong Kong

Hong Kong → Bangkok

Bangkok → Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi → Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta → Bangkok

Bangkok → Tokyo

Tokyo → Washington, DC

Working Abroad

My primary concern was always having a reliable internet connection. All the business that I do is on my laptop. So, I spent a lot of time searching Agoda's reviews to find places which specifically mentioned good internet. Bungalow separate from the main building with no wifi? Sorry, that just won't do. Every room I stayed in had pretty good internet. There was a power outage in Koh Lanta for one night which left me using 3G on my phone, but other than that I had fairly reliable internet. Maybe I got lucky? Maybe the hours and hours of reading reviews paid off. Hard to tell. I always booked only a night or two to start off with so that I could have a place to put my stuff down. If I didn't like something, I could always switch after a day.

The biggest issue I ran into was routine and schedule. At home, I work from a coworking space in Washington, DC (Affinity Lab). I wake up, have a morning routine, go into the office and work. I come home and generally keep a pretty regular 5 days a week schedule for work.

Traveling took that routine away from me. I was left with 24 hours of unstructured time per day. I didn't have an office, friends to see or commitments to keep. It was chaos.

I had a couple project deadlines while traveling. None of them were particularly large projects and it normally meant setting aside a day or two and just working. That was the easiest part of working.

The hardest part of working was my own work. I worked on a big article about benchmarking and comparing managed WordPress hosting companies.

That's about the only noteworthy thing I accomplished for my own business while traveling. I initially set out thinking that this would be the perfect opportunity to work on finishing up a lot of side projects which never got finished or polished before. These projects include Domainling, a domain name search engine and suggestion tool. FMK, a Facebook game that works but is horribly designed and needs a lot of polish. I also wanted to finish a gambling odds calculator for scratch offs in Washington, DC.

I didn't so much as open the code for any of these projects. Oops.

I had no routine, I spent a lot of time outside (and underwater). I would often come home very tired and never really planned time to work. So, things kept getting pushed back. Eventually, time ran out and I never made any progress on these projects.

The most productive time I had was probably in Hong Kong when I stayed with my friend. He was working a normalish schedule which pushed me towards his work routine.


What I spent most of my time doing, Diving, Hin Daeng, Thailand

Outcome

I spent three months in Asia and didn't lose money. My napkin math puts me at about even for the trip. A little consulting work went a long way in Thailand.

I met a handful of friends who either came to visit me or happened to be traveling in the same area and we met up. I made a few new (and temporary?) friends whom I probably will never see again. I don't think I created any meaningful relationships with new people.

I earned my advanced open water certification for diving and had a lot of awesome dives.

I started to miss good friends with whom I forged deeper friendships. I also missed the mundane social activities and structure of my life back home in DC. While traveling, I met a lot of people but I feel like I had the same conversation hundreds of times with new faces saying the words.

I realized the dream of being a digital nomad was better than the reality of it. For me, at least in this incarnation of it.


Friendly Manta Ray, Hin Daeng, Thailand

What I would do differently

Just because I started to miss home and wasn't as productive as I had hoped doesn't mean that I've given up on the idea. It just means I didn't get it right. Yet.

I want to do a trip similar to this one again. The biggest change I hope will be not going alone. I have a handful of good friends who all work in careers which would allow them to work remotely. Convincing a few of them to join me would be a step in the right direction.

I also think staying longer in a single location will allow me to get into a better routine. When moving around a lot, I get this urge to see and do everything before I leave. That pushes back other priorities, like working. I also think friends who need to do work can help each other be mutually accountable.

TL;DR:

I chased a dream and it wasn't as good as I had hoped. But I learned a lot about myself and will hopefully adjust and try again.


View from View Point Resort, Koh Phi Phi

National Day of Civic Hacking: Exploring Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Data

This weekend I participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

The project I decided to work on was working with the CFPB data (and also used some census data).

Background

The CFPB released a large complaints database that contained information about what type of financial products people are complaining about. It also gave information about where the complaints came from, what they were complaining about and resolution information. Some of the data was released literally a day earlier. So I was given a chance to take a look at, analyze and visualize information that nobody has really seen yet.

It was an exciting and interesting opportunity. Since it was very fresh data with little to no previous work, much of what I got to do was more general analysis. I created a handful of graphics (click them to see full size) and maps (click to use the map) which I have included below:

What products are people complaining about the most?

The biggest product people are complaining about is mortgage related products. There is a category for other mortgages that people can choose and it seems most people seem to select that. I wasn't sure why until I looked at the issues people were having.

What are the most common issues people have?

Foreclosure, Loan Modification and Collection. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. I probably don't care what type of mortgage it is when they are trying to take my house away. This particular issue dwarfed everything else, so I had to use a log scale to even see what the other issues people were facing.

What are the most common issues people have? (log scaled)

This gives a more in-depth picture of the issues, but the first graphic really shows you the most common and/or pressing financial issue for people.

Which companies had the most complaints?

Then I explored which companies were receiving the most complaints. This data is NOT normalized. That means that just because a company has more complaints doesn't make it worse than one with less. For example, if company A had 10 complaints and 100 customers and company B had 5 complaints and 20 customers, company B would be worse (if we measured complaints as a % of customers). I didn't have easy access to a database with any dataset that would normalize these banks, so this is for curiosity more than any meaningful insight. It probably is a proxy for the largest players in consumer finance though.

[MAP] Where are the complaints coming from in the US? (Normalized for state population)

This map shows where people are complaining the most. DC won that dubious honor. Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, California and Florida were also high on the list. All the numbers were adjusted to reflect complaints relative to population of a state. So we can clearly see there are differences and we can probably make educated guesses for some of them. DC for example is probably the highest because of the highest awareness of CFPB (since it's based in DC). Maryland probably has a high awareness too. Florida and California had big real estate bubbles and perhaps were hit especially hard. New Hampshire and Delaware are a mystery to me, although a woman from New Hampshire at my event told me that she complained to the CFPB and told all her friends as well. Perhaps an above-average awareness of the CFPB caused the higher complaint rate.

Top 10 Companies by Complaints and their Disputed Resolution Rates

Next I explored disputed resolutions. Companies alert the CFPB when the matter is resolved and consumers are allowed to tell the CFPB they were not satisfied with the resolution. I graphed the top 10 companies by complaint volume and what their disputed resolution rates looked like. It's interesting to see such big differences between companies but without further information about how they handle disputes, it's impossible to say anything confidently comparing one company to another.

[MAP] Disputed Resolutions by State

Finally, I created a map graphing disputed resolutions by state. There was a surprisingly large variation between states. Alaska, for instance, had a disputed resolution rate of over 26% while Wyoming had a measly 16%. I have no idea why, but it's interesting and worth looking into further.

Conclusion

I had a lot of fun exploring this fresh set of data and there is a lot more to be learned from it. I want to give a big thanks to Ana from the CFPB and Logan from the Census Bureau who attended the event and helped participants navigate the data provided their respective organizations.

Reverse Engineering Startup Press: How and Why TechCrunch Covered My Launch

After my startup's launch was covered by TechCrunch I was asked by a lot of people how it happened. People wanted copies of my pitch to learn from. It was as if I had discovered some arcane secret. But I didn't believe that. All I had done was read a couple blog posts from other startups with copies of their pitches (Thanks Jason L. Baptiste, Vinicius Vacanti, Leo Widrich) and one journalist who shared his thoughts (Thanks Sean Blanda). So instead of saying here is the magical way to get press, I wanted to find out what journalists really thought of my pitch and how it could be done better. They receive hundreds of emails from people trying to get their attention and I wanted their advice and expertise. I also wanted to know why the author who covered me on TechCrunch chose to write about me. How did I win the press lottery? In this post, I will share their thoughts and opinions.

Let's begin with the actual pitch:

Subject: Exclusive Story Opportunity: Could Twitter replace review websites?
Hey Eldon,
We talked briefly at TC DC meetup and I showed you a quick demo of my startup: Review Signal.

We're planning to launch on September 25 and you're the first journalist I've reached out to and I'd be happy to give you guys the exclusive on our launch.

What is Review Signal?
Our goal is use the conversations on social media to build a review site and bring a new level of transparency to the (sometimes? often?) shady review industry. We've started with the web hosting industry (probably the shadiest of them all) and plan to expand after launching (we're in data collection mode for a few more niches like domain registrars). At launch, we will be the largest web hosting review site around by at least an order of magnitude (maybe two) with over 100,000 reviews.

We also have a 45 second video explaining how our system works:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPpwbZWLwJQ

You're welcome to login to our private beta (username: xxx, password: xxx at ).

If you're interested please let me know and I'd be happy to follow up with any information or questions over email or phone.

What happened after I sent this email? I got a response from Klint Finley, who Eric Eldon had forwarded my email to.

Eric forwarded this to me -- I'd love to get the scoop on this. Are you available Friday?

I will skip sharing mundane details because everything of importance was handled over the phone after the first response. I told him about what I was doing and answered some of his questions. And the article came out the day we launched.

What did the journalists think?

The opinion I was most curious to read was Klint's. He is the one who wrote about Review Signal. I was thrilled when he said he would be willing to participate in this article. Please note this is his opinion and his alone. They do not represent the opinion of TechCrunch or any other publication.

Klint Finley

For a startup launch I think pitching to the press is really not all that hard: blogs like TechCrunch and The Next Web are always looking to cover new startups. The important thing is to have something worth writing about. Offering an exclusive always help grab our eye, but it's not always necessary.

The pitches I've seen fail are 'yet another...' for spaces that have long since ceased to be exciting and don't have anything else to sex them up (well known founders, a sizeable investment, a really interesting new spin on the idea...)

If the pitch sounds too much like "It's like Foursquare, but better and built by someone you've never heard of," I don't think that many people are going to pay attention at this point. If you don't have a name or a big investment you've really got to get that differentiation in there early.

I like the "it's like X for Y" type of pitch format, but not everyone does. But telling me "We're an HTML5 mobile app framework with some really advanced features" won't tell me much. Telling me "We're like PhoneGap for building Foursquare-style apps" is going to be a bit more attention grabbing.

The subject line of an e-mail is really important. To be honest, I didn't think your subject line was very good. I probably would have missed that e-mail entirely if Eric hadn't flagged it for me to check out. But once I opened the e-mail and saw that it was about using Twitter sentiment analysis to rank web hosts, I was really interested since web hosting, sentiment analysis and data mining are interests/beats of mine.

Which brings me to the importance of finding the right person for a pitch. This can be hard. Since you think of your company mostly as a b2c company and I write mostly about b2b and dev tech, it might not have been obvious to pitch directly to me. Again, luckily Eric saw it and thought, correctly, that it might be something I'd be interested in.

Some of the pitches I've gotten recently that I wrote about came directly to me and mentioned articles I'd written before. Sometimes I see this stuff and it's totally left-field and vague, like "I see that you once wrote something about 'cloud,' I too am in the cloud business." But sometimes I'll luck out and someone will e-mail me something along the lines of "you once wrote that it would be interesting to see a company doing X... well, that's what we're doing!"

So, in summary: do something awesome, make sure you explain your differentiation, put that in the subject line of your e-mail, and send it to the right person. Easier said than done.

Klint also pointed out that “this would be just one journalist's preference.” So I also decided to get a few more opinions and approached other journalists I've talked to in the past.

Ville Vesterinen and Miikke Kukkosuo, Arctic Startup

Ville:
Was not too bad at all. Nice job! My critic:

1) It's a bit too long. Journos might just skip if it's too many lines to read.

2) I'd answer your headline by 'How:'

Miikka:
I have pretty similar thoughts as Ville.

Headline could be slightly sharper. 'How' is good. Or maybe even something edgier if you can think of something else.

I got a bit lost in the explanation, wasn't too easy to follow it. Depends a lot on the reader I guess how it's received - very big sites like TC might get so many mails that they move on quickly, a bit smaller ones probably would try to make sense of the message even if it takes a bit more time.

I think it would be enough to state the problem&market you're tackling, and why you will rock. Make it easy to read and understand, go straight to the point.
For example:
The review industry is shady. We will change that using social media conversations to bring a new level of transparency. At launch, we will be the largest web hosting review site around by at least an order of magnitude (maybe two) with over 100,000 reviews. Then we'll expand to more niches.

Carl Pierre, InTheCapital

I would take out the Could Twitter replace review websites part and just write exclusive story opportunity, maybe include your name in the subject line too so they remember who you are.

Um...the first part is cool, I would probably avoid mentioning the demo part, just say "we talked briefly at TC DC meetup and you gave me some good points on my new startup, Review Signal."

Then you should probably just say that you talked about providing an exclusive for your launch, and wanted to share the information with them before you go live.

Probably avoid the part that says, What is Review Signal, I would probably skip to something like...

Here is a quick refresher as to what we do:

- bullet point
- bullet point

Trust me, nobody likes slogging through paragraphs for info, especially as a journalist who gets bombarded with pitches constantly. Keep it succinct, short, and with key information in bullet points.

Again, this won't guarantee that you'll get a story, but it should hopefully significantly improve your chances.

From talking to the journalists, the basic recommendation seems to be:

  • Do something interesting
  • Explain why you're different
  • The subject line is your one chance to communicate why someone should care
  • Target the right journalist
  • Explain your idea clearly
  • Keep it short

I have to thank all these journalists for taking the time and participating. I had a great time talking to them and getting feedback about the pitch. I learned a great deal and hopefully this helps others too.

If you have any other tips please feel free to share them in the comments.

Review Signal Launch: Stats, Failures, Successes and Lessons Learned

It's been two weeks since Review Signal launched. The initial excitement of reaching it's first major milestone is over and I finally have a moment to think about how it went.

The Stats:

3,041 Visits
10,163 Pageviews
3.34 Pages per Visit
Average Visit Duration: 2m 16s
Bounce Rate: 5.52%
Visitors from TechCrunch: 727

Failures and Short Comings:

Social Sites - Reddit, HackerNews
It got very little traction in these communities which was disappointing because I thought these were the audiences most likely to appreciate Review Signal. Reddit was a gamble that it would be picked up, it's a huge community and it's hard to balance legitimacy and self-promotion. HackerNews I thought would be more appreciative of the problem I was trying to solve. I got a couple hundred hits and a few comments (15, many of which were my own replies). The commenters brought up some good issues, for example, the hosting recommendation doesn't work well for the HackerNews crowd. There are so many options for hosting that making a good recommendation for advanced users is incredibly hard to do with a simple form.

Contact an Expert Broke
It worked when I tested it, but somewhere between testing it and launch day it stopped working. Not sure how that happened, but it did. Some people will never hear back from me because it didn't save and send their requests for help properly. I am truly sorry about that.

Preparations
I didn't prepare enough for launch day. I had been working towards this day for months and prepared an exhaustive list of things I wanted to accomplish on day 1. I completed maybe 15% of that list. I hit the major ones, but I missed a lot of low hanging fruit which could have helped make a bigger impact. The more human side of it was I got overwhelmed and I vastly underestimated how much I could do on the fly.

Utilizing Other People
I built Review Signal alone, but on launch day I had two friends take the day off and volunteer to help me do things. I say things because I don't think I effectively used their skills. Let me be clear, Zack and Danny are both fantastic people and what happened says nothing about their talents and abilities. I am incredibly lucky to have such amazing friends. I wasn't prepared enough to work with other people on launch day. I had a few vague ideas about what they could do to help but very few concrete things for them to actually do. I definitely didn't have instructions or information to make it easy for them. More planning and better communication would have made a big difference.

What went well:

TechCrunch covered the launch.
That was really exciting and sent a lot of very high quality traffic. The bounce rate was under 2% and people were staying for over 2 minutes. I thought the article did a fantastic job explaining what Review Signal was and the challenges it faces. Some might say it's a vanity metric, the number of people who reached out to me because of the article was incredible. It opened a lot of doors that I am sure would still be closed if I hadn't gotten covered in TC.

Secondary Press

The TechCrunch article also got me covered in The Web Hosting Industry Review (TheWHIR). One of the largest, if not the largest, web hosting magazine. I also had a couple other articles written by smaller startup blogs.

Nginx + Blitz.io

Once I knew I was getting TechCrunch coverage I got worried about how much traffic my server could handle. I setup Nginx as a reverse proxy and cache and it performed like a champ. I had people complimenting how fast the site loaded. As far as I can tell the server never blinked. It peaked at 60 active users according to Google Analytics. I tested my site constantly with Blitz.io which allowed me to test up to 300 concurrent users for free. The site was struggling under Apache with that load, but once I got Nginx in front of Apache, all my concerns faded away. I couldn't generate enough concurrent users to see where Nginx would actually start to slow down.

Lessons Learned and how I would do it next time

Preparations
The most time consuming thing on launch day was crafting messages. Coming up with post titles, writing emails, IM'ing friends, and all sorts of other messages. Almost all of that could have been done before hand. I could have drafted emails, I could have written a few templates for IMs and message boards. I had the stories I wanted to use crafted but they weren't ready to simply copy+paste into messages. Each message also required some degree of personalization because nobody likes spam emails. Next time, I will have everything 1 click away from sending for launch day.

Test Everything. Again. And Again.

I should have done more thorough testing. I especially needed to make sure that the contact points with customers functioned properly. I got a lot of emails reaching out to me on launch day, but I missed quite a few hosting recommendations. The hosting recommendations probably had the highest potential value of any visitor to my site, and I lost all of them. Fail.

Paid Press Releases

I used PRWeb and their analytics tell me I got 15508 impressions and 221 reads. I have no idea what or where those impression numbers come from or how they are calculated. PRWeb sent 83 visitors which had the lowest stats of any referrer in terms of bounce rate, pages/visit and visit duration. But, that got syndicated across a bunch of websites like Yahoo. If the goal is strictly to get press, it was a waste of money. From an SEO standpoint, I don't know and it's incredibly hard to measure the value of the release.

If you have any ideas, questions or feedback I would be happy to hear it. You might also enjoy my previous project's launch story: Gift Lizard Launch: Stats, Failures, Successes and Lessons Learned.

Imagining a Better Review Site

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Originally posted on the Review Signal Blog

I was a pretty unsatisfied consumer. There are so many review sites and so few that I actually trust. Other than my few trusted review sites which covered very specific topics, I was lost and confused about who to trust for information. Asking friends only went so far and people often give conflicting opinions. I searched what a lot of people were saying but there was no easy way to find any sort of consensus. There were always questions, and I often felt like I didn't have enough information to make a good decision.

It was a year and a half ago, I had just finished my Master's thesis about using Twitter data to predict box office sales for movies based on word of mouth. Then, it occurred to me, we don't write reviews, we talk with friends. Reviews are embedded into our every day conversations, and every single person on earth does it. We talk about what we like and dislike but it doesn't happen to be written in 'review' format. What if I could collect that data and make sense of it all?

I am proud to introduce Review Signal: a new kind of review site based on what people really think.

Our goals are simple:

  • Be transparent about where each opinion comes from and source it to the original location

  • Define very clearly how things are rated in an easy to understand way

Review Signal has been launched covering our first market: web hosting reviews. We've gathered a list of some of the most popular web hosting companies and collected over 50,000 opinions expressed about them. We've analyzed them and even broken down some important and hard-to-measure values such as how satisfied people are with the support offered by a company.

Visit Web Hosting Reviews at Review Signal

Web hosting is just the start. We would love to review everything, but we're also realistic about what we can do and how fast we can do it.  We will expand to other niches as fast as we can while still maintaining our strict quality standards.  If there is some market you're unhappy with and think we can make a difference, we would love to hear from you!  We also look forward to any and all feedback, suggestions, ideas and criticisms.  Contact us.

Thank You

Posted in

I launched my startup today, Review Signal (You can read about it here if you're curious). I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past 19 months of my life that it took to get to this point.

Although Review Signal is a one man operation, I didn't do it alone and couldn't have done it alone. There has been a huge cast of people who have helped me along the way.

Mom, it wouldn't be right to start the list off with anyone but you. Thank you. You've always been my biggest supporter and wouldn't have made it here with you and your support.

Dad and Cheryl, you guys have supported me too and helped me with a lot of issues over the past two years. It still impresses me that with no programming experience your logic can help me design and improve my systems.

JR, my designer extraordinaire. Your ability to capture an idea, refine it and design it is inspiring.

Mike St. John, you've mentored me and continue to do so. You're always there when something goes wrong and don't hesitate to step in and help in an emergency. I can't thank you enough for your help.

The Nerd Herd at Affinity Lab: Sam, Raphael, Sean, Mike, Dan, Andy, Chris (and ex-herder Lin), thank you for the constant help and feedback day in and day out.

Kira, thank you for your invaluable help with PR.

The rest of my Affinity Lab family, thank you. You guys keep me going.

Nico Garcia, you designed our first logo, for a brand name that ultimately didn't pan out (Mention). I really loved it too.

Monique Priestley and Jordan Gibbens, the ball would not have started rolling without you. Thank you for your help at the very beginning.
Daniel Kleinman, my partner is silly projects and learning new technologies. Thanks for you constant help and feedback.

Last but not least, Zack, my oldest and best friend. Who took a day off from work to help me launch. You've always been there for me no matter what.

And if I've forgotten anyone I am truly sorry, there have been so many wonderful people who have helped me out along the way. Thank you.

NASA Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC (Photos)

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I took these from The Kennedy Center Rooftop.

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

Space Shuttle Discovery Flys over Washington DC

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This work by Kevin Ohashi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

High Res Photos from Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) at the Navy Research Laboratory

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Here is a small sampling of high res photos from the Navy Research Laboratory's brand new Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR).

All Photos taken April 2, 2012.

Click on a photo to see high res version.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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