around

Amazing accessibility news all around…

Lately I’ve been quite immersed in the world of Microsoft to find my way around the new job, and whilst doing so I discovered a few things you might have missed. Especially in the field of accessibility there is some splendid stuff happening.

During the key note of //build last week in San Francisco there were quite a few mind-blowing demos. The video of they keynote is available here (even for download).

For me, it got very interesting 2 hours and five minutes in when Cornelia Carapcea, Senior PM of the Cognitive APIs group shows off some interesting tools:

The results of CRIS are impressive. For example, Cornelia showed off how a set of audio files with interviews with children became much more usable. On the right in this screenshot you see the traditional results of speech to text APIs and on the right what CRIS was able to extract after being trained up:

better quality results of audio to text

The biggest shock for me was to see my old friend Saqib Shaikh appear on stage showing off his Seeing AI demo app. It pretty much feels like accessibility sci-fi becoming reality:

The Microsoft Cognitive Services: Give Your Apps a Human Side breakout session at build had some more interesting demos:

  • Tele2 using the translation API to do live translation of phone calls into other languages. You hear the message in the original language, a beep and then the translation. (34:50 onwards)
  • ProDeaf doing the same to translate live audio into sign language across languages. (40:00 onwards)

Audio to sign language translator

In Andy Sterland’s F12 Developer Tools talk of Edge Web Summit he covered some very important new accessibility features of developer tools:

  • F12 tools for Edge now have not only an accessibility tab in the DOM viewer, but also a live updating Accessibility Tree viewer
  • Narrator for Windows will have a developer mode. You can turn this on using “Narrator + Caps Lock + Shift + F12” and it will only read out the app that you chose rather than the whole operating system, including your editor and the things you type in. To avoid the mistake of looking at the screen whilst using a screen reader, it also automatically hides the screen except for the currently read out part.

tree view

normal view

narrator developer mode

My direct colleage and man of awesome Aaron Gustafson deep dived more into the subject of accessibility and covered a large part of the Inclusive Design Toolkit.

All in all, there is a lot of great stuff happening in the world of accessibility at Microsoft. I had a very easy time researching my talk next week at Funka.

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Something Looks Different Around Here…

We’ve revamped the Hacks Blog! The old design was looking a little long in the tooth, and was built in an altogether less-responsive era. The new design has a few goals:

  • Look great on as many screens as possible
  • Get out of the way of some awesome content
  • Have the flexibility to show off larger images and HD video
  • Tie in more closely to the MDN branding

Over the next few months, expect additional tweaks as we settle into the new foundation. A huge thanks to everyone who helped battle-test, critique, and get the new visuals fit for the public.

If anything looks broken with the new design, please leave a comment on this post or file an issue on GitHub.

Thanks!

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Building Successful Business Models Around Community – Interview with Jeffrey Veen, Typekit

A Web Professional Success Story

Jeffrey Veen is the Founder and CEO of Typekit. Founded in 2008 by some of the industry’s most experienced designers and developers, Typekit was acquired by Adobe Systems Incorporated in 2011. Veen and the TypeKit team continues to advance what’s possible on the web. Built around web standards, the Typekit service gives designers and developers a subscription-based library of hosted, high-quality fonts to use on their websites. With over 250,000 customers including some of the largest sites on the web today including: The New York Times, Conde Nast, IGN, Twitter, and many others. Adobe Typekit is actively integrating Typekit into hosted platforms—such as WordPress, TypePad, and Posterous—so that anyone with a website can use real fonts.

In addition to Typekit, Veen was one of the founding partners of the user experience consulting group Adaptive Path. While there, he lead the development of Measure Map, which was acquired by Google. During his time at Google, he redesigned Google Analytics and lead the UX team for Google’s apps. Veen was also a part of the founding web team at Wired Magazine, where he developed HotWired, Web Monkey, Wired News, and many other sites. During that time, he authored two books, “HotWired Style” and “The Art and Science of Web Design.”

Now serving as the Senior Director, Products at Adobe Systems, I caught up with Veen for an seventeen minute Skype interview to discuss the evolution of TypeKit, including the process from start-up to sale to Adobe, the power of the TypeKit community, lessons learned along the way and to glean some advice for those among us within the Web professional community interested in taking an idea to fruition.

Hats off to Jeffrey Veen a true Web Professional success story!

Building Typekit on relationships
by Jeffrey Veen

There are lots of reasons to do a startup. Sometimes, there’s an idea you just can’t stop thinking about — a thing you absolutely want to exist in the world. Or sometimes you see a gap in how an industry is evolving, and with a small team of talented people you think you can fill that gap much faster than the big companies can.

Both of these things were true when we started Typekit three years ago. Web browsers started implementing @font-face and a lot of people started wringing their hands over the issue of intellectual property and typefaces. A debate sprang up: Web designers were embracing new CSS features like never before, but font designers worried that their craft would go the way of Napster and BitTorrent. It was a recipe for disruption and opportunity, and we jumped in.

For us, so much was uncharted. The four of us who founded the company had worked together and built products before, but we’d never been down the venture capital path. We scratched up a little cash putting on a conference and doing some work with our friends at Twitter. Still, it was clear that if we wanted to build Typekit at the scale we imagined, we’d need some real money.
It takes a team

Cloud computing has really made it inexpensive to try out new ideas. I mean, seriously, it’s crazy cheap now. Case in point: when we started Measure Map in 2005, the table stakes were about $25,000 for a rack of Dell servers just to see if it would work. The machines were shipped to us and we took them to a data center and opened all the boxes and plugged them in and spent a few days configuring everything. Six years later, that feels as antiquated as starting your car by turning a crank.

So yes, it’s true that cloud computing has changed the startup world. It’s cheap to build stuff now, and that makes things less risky. But a great team costs money, and that hasn’t changed — nor should it. Experienced designers and engineers can’t pay their kids’ tuition for 10 cents an hour or spin down health insurance when it’s not utilized.

You need a team. I don’t believe you can do it all yourself, or even with a co-founder camped out in your parents’ garage. Examples to the contrary are the exception. It’s rare that one person can write all the code, craft an exceptional user experience, communicate transparently with customers, and manage the financial health of the business. Yes, you can build tangible proof of your idea. You can even launch it and get traction. But to really build something that has broad reach and significant impact, most of us need the diversity of talent and experience that comes with a team of collaborators.

So when we started Typekit, we did some math. Given our track record and how much we believed in the idea of fonts on the web, how much of the theoretical future value of the company should we take in advance? With that up-front capital, could we actually put together the team we wanted and move fast enough to get a compelling product to an audience that would pay for it? And even if we could, would it generate enough revenue to both share with our partners (since we didn’t actually have any fonts for our font service) and grow into a sustainable business?

When I say “math” above, I run the risk of implying some rational process. Sometimes, I wished there was a simple algorithm or an actuary table for startups — plug in your numbers and out comes the answer. Unfortunately, it’s nothing like that. Financing a startup has as much to do with timing as it does with the track record of the founders or the attractiveness of the idea. The first browsers implemented CSS font linking just around the same time as the 2008 financial meltdown. Was that good for us? Was that bad? Tough call, but it certainly was relevant. We iterated our business model as much as we did our interface.

There are other models for getting started, of course. We bootstrapped Measure Map with the profits of Adaptive Path’s vibrant consulting practice, following the model we saw 37signals forging. When you’re a consultant, you trade your time for money and once you’ve done the work, you can pretty much do whatever you want with the cash. But it’s distracting. For me, doing my best possible work requires complete focus on a single problem. I couldn’t solve other people’s problems to make money and build a great product at the same time. To do that, I needed — again! — a great team. So at Adaptive Path, some of the people earned the cash, while others burned through it building a product using — again! — the same sort of undocumented math as a VC-backed startup.

Ultimately, we did what might be called a traditional round of funding for Typekit: A VC firm led the round that included a number of angel investors.
A True story

Our lead investor was Tony Conrad. I first met Tony when he was one of Adaptive Path’s clients a bunch of years ago. He was on the entrepreneur side of things back then as the CEO of Sphere, and was looking for help with visualizing his product concept through Adaptive Path’s user-centered design process. This was during the time I was transitioning to Google, so we didn’t get the chance to do day-to-day work together, but we did spend a lot of time talking about the product and how he was designing the business to support it.

It was immediately clear that Tony put a lot of work into surrounding himself with very talented people, regardless of whether he could convince them to actually take a job at his company. In every project he’s taken on, I’ve watched him build up a network of advisors, and then trust what they would tell him. Later, when he launched about.me, the product’s initial growth was driven through Twitter. His group of advisors collectively had millions of followers to help him get the word out.

It was through Tony that we meet everyone else at True Ventures. He’s a partner there now, and when I left Google and started thinking about doing something with Bryan, True was our first call. They were one of the early VC funds, about five years ago, to focus exclusively on seed-stage companies — small teams that haven’t taken a formal round of financing yet. These companies are the riskiest investments since the team usually hasn’t even started building their idea. True focuses not just on giving them money to give it a go, but reducing the overall risk by attempting to eliminate as many of the factors that tank a company in the first year.

Specifically, True puts a tremendous amount of effort into the community of founders with whom they work. They host frequent events, bring in experienced and inspiratiional speakers, and help the entrepreneurs they’ve funded connect with each other. We knew we could pick up the phone and talk not only to the partners, but to any of the other founders and we’d find someone who’d been through whatever we were facing that day.
The most interesting dinner party ever

I may have lots of experience developing products, but navigating the ambiguity of a startup is a very different set of skills. I learned while working on Typekit that both the product and the business benefit from a user-centered philosophy. When you’re stuck with a problem and don’t know what to do next, talk to people. Ask them what they think. Collect a bunch of perspectives. Filter what they say through your own intuition and experience. Then ask them who else you should ask. Keep going and never stop. To put it simply: Great products are built on solid relationships.

So we took Tony’s advice and surrounded ourselves with people we respected. And it turns out that the best way to get someone’s continued attention is to take their money. We set aside a portion of our first round equity for a group of angel investors who, in Bryan’s words, “Would make the most interesting dinner party ever.” And, as soon as we’d got everyone signed on, we sat down for dinner with Evan Williams, Caterina Fake, Matt Mullenweg, Chris Sacca, Josh Felzer, David Samuel, and the legendary Ron Conway. Some of them I’d known for years, like Ev and Caterina who had both been clients at Adaptive Path. Matt became a friend back while I was working on getting Measure Map integrated with WordPress. I worked with Chris at Google and he helped me to think about how things can get really, really big. But Josh, David, and Ron were new relationships we developed and I’m grateful we did. Everyone’s combined experience — and their willingness to share it — was both a tremendous head start and a reassuring saftey net for us.

My only regret in this whole funding process was that we weren’t able to work with twice as many people as did. We had so many great meetings and offers for support. In the end, we had to find a balance between how much of the company we were willing to part with and the number of investors who would end up with a reasonable stake. It was amazing that so many people believed in us, but it was difficult to make the final decision.

If I were an advice-giving guy, I’d tell entrepreneurs this: Raising money for your startup is not about the money. It’s about finding people to work with that you like and trust. Someone you wouldn’t hesitate to ask anything, and won’t make you feel stupid when you do. Use this test: Imagine your phone ringing; does the name on the screen make you feel eager to answer? Not nervous. Not dreading the call. Excited.

If you do go down the VC path, choose wisely. Your investors are one of the most important hiring decisions you’ll make.

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Kyoo Business Empowers Brands to Aggregate, Monitor Social Content from Around the Web

Interactive Front End Dynamically Displays Content Surrounding a Given Topic, While Administrative Dashboard Gives Control, Reporting Capabilities to Brand ManagerKnoxville, Tenn. (PRWEB) July 28, 2011 On the heals of last month’s launch of Kyoo Channels, Kyoo — the first aggregation system built to serve large-scale information consumption — today announced Kyoo Business, a service that …

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Search University Web Sites Around the World with UNOUNI.com

Announcing UNOUNI.com, a niche platform which provides focussed search on University web sites around the world.Edinburgh, UK (PRWEB UK) 27 June 2011 unouni.com is a niche search platform which focuses on University web sites around the world, allowing the academic community to search for information directly relevant to their own interests within their own peer group.The growing vertical search …

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Nokia uniting mobile app dev around Qt

Nokia is focusing on Qt (pronounced “cute”) as the sole application development framework for its Symbian and MeeGo mobile phone platforms for both native and Web application development, the company said Thursday. Consolidating around Qt will ensure that applications will be compatible with future versions of both platforms, Nokia said. Previously, Web Runtime served as the Web development …

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Today in Tech: News around the Web

A round-up of the companies, deals, and trends that made headlines. Every day, the Fortune staff spends hours poring over tech stories, posts, and reviews from all over the Web to keep tabs on the companies that matter. We’ve assembled the day’s most newsworthy bits below.

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