Hallrank: Simplifying and Quantifying Market Research

While churning through startup ideas and moving some down the field, I find myself having countless decision points along the way. Decisions that are very market-dependent. I can often make a call, but some things I would ideally want input from my potential customers or trusted advisors. I wanted a way to poll individuals, making the process painless for them and capture the data in such a way that I could easily distill the answers to my questions. Hallrank is the set of tools I’ve built to help me along the way.

Hallrank has a number of tools that can be used to solve your problems. One common task I encounter is choosing a name or selecting an ideal graphic. I’m not necessarily looking for a choice that wins me over, but rather resonates well with my users. One popular method I use with Hallrank is condorcet voting or instant run-off voting (IRV), which are voting strategies where individuals rank-order their preference and an “optimal” candidate is chosen not just a simple majority rule. There is also a paired comparison strategy offered in Hallrank, where users decide their preference between two options based on some declared criterion. After a series of comparisons detailed quantitative results are able to be generated. Regardless of the outcome, I’m not just interested in consensus and Hallrank offers other benefits beyond consensus building.

Design by committee is terrible. I am usually not just interested in finding the highest ranked or averaged selection. There are many other facets to consider including whose opinion I’m considering. Hallrank allows you to tag your respondents according to specific demographic or user groups for later data analysis. So, Group A prefers item X and hates item Y, while Group B prefers Y. Hallrank also allows you to identify highly contentious items as well as those selections that are safe and boring–no one hates them, but no one particularly loves them.

I’ve found the tool to be extremely helpful and I want to be able to offer it to others and see how they are able to use it in their work. Check it out at:


[imported from hallrank blog ]
[Updated Hallrank URL]

Protosprout : Promoting Entrepreneurship & Start-Up Culture in North Carolina

A couple of weeks ago I emerged from my development trance and decided to venture back out into the wilds of the Triangle entrepreneurial scene. The timing worked out so that I could trek out to Raleigh earlier this month to attend the inaugural Protosprout Community Program Meeting.

Protosprout ( http://protosprout.com ) is a NC-based company founded by Justis Peters that is looking to bring local entrepreneurs together and foster an energized, start-up community. I think it was a successful first meeting. Justis pulled folks together and lead some interesting and informal discussions including how the community could work together to provide support and value to one another. Ideas included things like skill and service bartering, community forums, general networking, official Protosprout mentorship and startup programs. A local skill bartering system would be great for a lot of startups ( ala programmer meets designer ) as would a tighter knit community for bouncing ideas off of or even testing your prototypes.

Part of the evening included time for pitching your startups and Q&A. Even Wayne Sutton got up and pitched an idea. I’ll take a moment to mention one really cool company that pitched: Durham TechShop ( http://www.durham.techshop.ws )

The TechShop will be a a DIY workshop with a slew of tools and machines for any number of tasks ( electronics, woodworking, plastics, machining, welding, 3d printing, even blacksmithing! ). They’ll offer classes so that you can get certified to use the various tools and then you’re off to create whatever you want. I am really excited to see this in action, so all you folks with checkbooks contact Scott Saxon over at the TechShop and get this puppy funded!

I met a lot of interesting people that night and look forward to attending the next Protosprout meeting. You should check it out over at http://protosprout.com . I think Justis is doing a great job getting this organized.

You can also follow Protosprout on Twitter ( http://twitter.com/protosprout )

ALT Summit Debrief

The North Carolina Advanced Learning Technologies Association (NC ALTA) did a great job organizing the first Advanced Learning Technologies (ALT) Summit, which aimed to bring industry and though leaders together to discuss the state and future of advanced learning technologies. Some time has passed now, but I wanted to mention the summit and some of the highlights.

Something Big is a Brewing

I think NC ALTA has really started a powerful ball rolling by creating a common focus on which a number of industries and research disciplines are beginning to converge. To demonstrate this let me list areas represented by the some of the people I encountered at the conference:

  • Game engine developers
  • Serious game developers
  • Developers of virtual worlds including frameworks like Second Life or Croquet. This also includes the corporate facet aimed at facilitating remote work and collaboration via a virtualized workplace.
  • Researchers dealing with immersive visualizations and virtual experiences. This includes some of the cool immersive environments hosted by RENCI.
  • Second (or third?) generation of e-learning companies and their interest in assessment, monitoring, and integration into larger learning management systems.
  • Educators interested in getting these technologies out in the schools and in the hands of students. As well as educators interested in seeing proper learning theory incorporated into program design.

Now imagine the intersection of all (or some) of these groups.

Parallel Tinkering and Research

I attended one birds-of-a-feather discussion that dealt with educational games and simulations in higher ed. I was surprised at the number of professors and students who have already begun building, deploying, and testing their educational games within their universities. Some folks met up after the round table and shared war stories, common hang-ups, and I think even identified some future collaborations. Exciting stuff!

One thing that came up a number of times during that session was the fact that we did have a number of independent development efforts going on. Essentially, each project required the development of a slew of management frameworks, authentication, integration with LMSs, middleware, etc. Everyone needed these same components and so everyone wrote their own.

Libby Evans of UNC and several others identified the need for some common, modular solutions to these problems. Establishing a framework of common solutions would allow researchers to focus on the interesting problems and it would encourage compatibility and collaboration. So it seems like a nice next step would be to look at the number of developed solutions and start distilling out some design patterns.

The Efficacy of Games in Education

Do games actually work in education? can they be used as a tool to teach or explore? I am particularly interested in this topic and have begun looking at this in terms of math games. Marrilea Mayo of the Kauffman Foundation was kind enough to share a tremendous amount of her own findings from reviewing the disparate literature.

Many of us have heard a number of positive anecdotal (or underpowered, small n) successes, positive pilots, but few full-blown psychometric studies on the efficacy of games in learning. In fact, I have not found any commercially available shrink-wrapped math games with associated efficacy studies. I have seen products claiming they are “scientifically-based”, because the product is designed around a number of accepted practices not that their actual efficacies were tested.

While I have personally been focused on the efficacy in K-12 and higher ed, there were also a number of discussions dealing with the same concepts in corporate space. How do we measure the success of our corporate training programs? ROI? So, it seems like efficacy and the ability to measure and monitor success is a common theme and something we need to start incorporating into our designs. Luckily, I think this is solvable once we begin embedding the means to track psychometrically-valid metrics.

So, I walked away from the ALT Summit pretty excited that we had begun a conversation that I think will develop into something revolutionary down the road. I encourage you to keep tuned in and check out NC ALTA.