Monthly Archives: July 2009

Still a few bugs to work out

notes on the AnnArbor.com launch; first Sunday edition on the streets.
We were at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market a week ago, and market manager Molly Notarianni had a sample left of an item that a vendor was gearing up to sell for next year: a tub with a praying mantis ootheca which, when left inside, would hatch little bitty mantids for your garden. Well, today was the day that they hatched – this video is someone else’s kids enjoying their mantid hatch.



Several people, including my mother-in-law, report problems with home delivery; If you had a problem with home delivery of @annarborcom call 734-926-4555 or toll free 888-922-2472 or email subscriberservices@annarbor.com.

The URL printed in the paper http://annarbor.com/subscriptions for “Manage your account at” goes to an error page.

Some people who used to get papers delivered to porches are getting them on the sidewalk, which makes it hard for mobility impaired people to read the paper.

A few people from out of town have asked how they can get a copy of the paper; I don’t see anything on the printed page (p4 of v1n1) that talks about mail subscriptions or single copies by mail.

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whoosh: site launch for AnnArbor.com

Some notes, before I quit for the night, from the launch of AnnArbor.com .

We went live at 8pm Thursday.  I took a nap after coming home from work, got up at about 830pm, and went online looking at the comments; most of that evening was spent answering comments, dealing with details, being helpful and present and attentive.  As much as possible, I tried to be like Caterina and George were like at the launch of Flickr.  (I wish I had a better quote for this; here's the one I could find from Pinhead's Progress in 2006)

They wanted to make Flickr so that users were facing each other, instead of facing the website.

To
encourage this, George Oates and Caterina spent almost 24/7 greeting
each person who came in to the original chat client when it launched.
They had an app called "the newbie spotter" which would tell them who
was new and what their interest was (you filled this in on your user
profile) so Caterina or George would then introduce them to other
users: "I see you like … Black Metal. User GeorgM in Berlin also
likes Black Metal."

Flickr is like a party with a good host.
Someone there to take your coat, get you a drink, and introduce you
around. By setting up this culture of meeting people, they made Flickr
a distinctive, friendly, and ultimately successful site.

Friday am up again at 7am, another round of comment moderation; in at work at 9am after dropping my little one at preschool.  Most of the morning spent in the comment stream looking at all of the little things people were eager to catch and point out at launch.  (Miami University, not University of Miami of Ohio; more than one typo; a few links that went to the wrong web sites; other similar sorts of detail that you'd rather get right before people notice; flippedmovie.com is not the movie being filmed.)

When it was clear that things were not going to rattle apart and that there actually was something there that was starting to make sense, it got easier.  I sat out on the patio in front of the office, got my laptop out, and talked to some folks who came by.  Cory Knobel stopped by, and we talked about his PhD research and about complex systems in general and what sort of stories you are prepared to tell to make sense of things, especially when they break.  Kathy Griswold was also by to relate stories of clearing sight lines at sidewalk crossings and mid-block crosswalks, and the level of detail you need to be prepared to attend to to figure out just who owns which corner of which street and is responsible for maintenance.  I referred her to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Library for help in tracking down some of the publications she was having a hard time finding.

There were a welcome deluge of detailed, thoughtful comments on the site design and usability; as Cory noted, you will always have a usability evaluation, if only from the people who you want as your readers.  I'll be sorting through a bunch of that next week and helping capture feedback at enough detail that it can be turned into things that can change.

The big process failure so far is handling things from our "community news" section; some good stuff came in there, but I don't see that we are bird dogging it in the same way as we are comments.  Fixable but ultimately frustrating, especially when breaking news comes in and we are late to react.

The best commentary on the process comes from @common_squirrel

Picture 9

Jolly Pumpkin on its way to Ann Arbor

The Jolly Pumpkin has a sign up at 311 S Main St, where Pepperz used to be, in downtown Ann Arbor. Barbara Tozier snapped a photo of the sign, a photo which has been making its rounds of the beer-loving community around town.

Permits were approved for the space on July 21, 2009 for electrical work; ELEC09-0838 goes to contractor Top Line Electric LLC. Mechanical work on MECH09-1259 goes to Koch & White Heating & Cooling.

Jolly Pumpkin’s Ron Jeffries was interviewed on Kalamabrew in January 2009 about his expansion plans.

Nickel Plate 765 steaming through Ann Arbor on its way to Owosso for Trainfestival 2009

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society brought Nickel Plate 765, a steam engine, through Ann Arbor on its way to Owosso for Trainfestival 2009.

Of the engine they write:

This is the historic steam locomotive no. 765: a high-stepping, fourteen wheeled magnificent machine that stands 15 feet tall, weighs 404 tons, and goes over 60 miles an hour; restored to the way it looked and sounded when it was built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944.

I heard about the trip on Twitter, and followed the handful of railfans, the curious, and trainspotters who were chasing it as it headed up the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks. You can follow the engine there as @nickelplate765. I managed to get close enough to hear the whistle blow, and very much enjoyed this video captured by Chris Goosman. If I read this right it should be heading back down through Ann Arbor from Owosso on its return trip – look for it!

As part of this year’s largest celebration in railroading, no. 765 will operate a special excursion from Owosso to Alma, Michigan and return on July 26th. From July 23rd to July 25th, the locomotive will be on live steam display with eight other steam locomotives from around the country! For more information or to purchase your tickets, visit www.trainfestival2009.com or call 989-725-9464.

Soft launch: day 16

Notes from day 16 of the new job at AnnArbor.com

Here is the "soft launch" definition from Wikipedia; of course you don't completely trust Wikipedia, but it's a first start, especially when you credit it.

Soft launching is the method of launching a missile (such as an anti-tank guided missile) in such a way that the rocket motor ignites outside of the launch tube; the missile is ejected non-explosively. The point is to minimize the risk of damage to the launcher by maintaining a safe distance. Contrast this with hard launching. A similar concept called cold launch was pioneered by the Soviets for application in vertical launch system clusters on board ships.


as trek notes, this is also a good common practice in launches of new software.  This from a 37 Signals essay "Why it's wise to launch softly"

Soft launching lets you tweak and revise. You get the word out there and you gauge interest. You know what works and what doesn’t.


Plus, you get to make mistakes while you’re still in the shadows. Messing up in front of a smaller crowd means you’ll be better off when the bright lights eventually do shine upon you.


The most recent search engine to try to do the hard launch with a massive PR spike was Cuil, a search engine which billed itself as a Google killer and got its brief shining moment in the sun before sinking into oblivion the very next day.  Techcrunch harshed their mellow thusly:

The hype cycle now lasts less than a day. Take yesterday’s over-hyped launch of stealth search startup Cuil, which was quickly followed by a backlash when everyone realized that it was selling a bill of goods. This was entirely the company’s own fault. It pre-briefed every blogger and tech journalist on the planet, but didn’t allow anyone to actually test the search engine before the launch.

For whatever reason, you may or may not have the luxury of starting out in obscurity and growing, mushroom-like, doubling in size every year until you are unstoppable.  Some markets demand a full-sized product at day one with the corresponding market splash.   If you are in that kind of world, at least be aware that you are, and take some people into your confidence who can give you an honest opinion so that you have heard it and internalized it already.

parking lot indicators: art fair 2009

I've been collecting data on parking prices for Michigan football games in yards near the stadium for a couple of years now; the better the team is doing, the better the chance that the $20 parking turns into $25 parking, or $15 turns into $20. 

The one data point I have for Art Fair parking pricing for 2009 is that a lot near the new office is offering $15 parking, in a location that in previous years had fetched $20.

I got a ride on my way into Wednesday Farmers Market, and after the driver said the prayer to find a parking spot, we found one – right in front.

This has been a good week to take the bus.