Member Profile: Season Crawford Manages Well at MMI

Season is on the SIPA 2014 Conference Program Committee and will co-present a session on Managing Remote Teams. We caught up with her between managing a company and running her daughter’s soccer league for this Q&A.

SIPA: I understand MMI just celebrated an anniversary. Congratulations!
SEASON: Thanks, five years. I’ve been there since the conception.

How did you first get involved?
MMI was started by Sam Spencer, who asked me to join. He’s the son of George Spencer, a founding member of SIPA. George owned one of the largest newsletter businesses in the ‘70s, Observer Publishing, where important industry people like Tod Sedgwick and Bruce Levenson got their start. He sold that company and later started GHI where I got my start. Around the time George retired, Sam started MMI.

Tell us about it.
We publish two electronic daily journals, hold webcasts and put out industry reports all for the energy industry. Our customers are high-level executives in the utility industry—as well as lawyers, regulators, technology providers, universities, energy service providers and consultants. Subscribers pay anywhere from $300 to $7,400 for a journal subscription depending on the license. Our reports and webcasts are one-shots. We don’t really bundle, though subscribers will get a 10% discount on webinars, maybe more for reports.

Where do you find new subscribers?
We partner with trade associations and conference organizers. Word-of-mouth is also important so we are on Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. We promote through all four but LinkedIn and Twitter probably work best for us. Our website attracts new subscribers through search engines. Once a prospect comes in, it’s up to us to convince them that the content is worth paying for and we do that with high-quality, professional journalism. George was well known for his forced free trials and we have had success with that. Prospects get the content free for a while by email and then we follow up with sales pitches by email, mail and phone.

What is your role?
I help oversee the day-to-day operations of most aspects except editorial. At the time MMI started, I was getting a master’s degree in publishing from George Washington University at night and applied a lot of what I learned to help develop the strategies, policies and procedures for the company from the ground up. Now it’s a matter of fine-tuning what we have and finding new ways to grow the company and readership. Sam also writes for us and knows how important the marketing and editorial relationship is. He’ll send me ideas and ways to promote the publications. We have a staff of 6 plus stringers, and have gone from zero to several thousand subscribers.

Talk about SIPA and the upcoming conference.
SIPA is so important to me because I’m not in school anymore and I want to keep learning. It helps me stay in the loop and on top of trends. As for presenting, I’ve learned a lot about managing a completely virtual company with Sam. At first, we had an office in D.C. but then I had my daughter and started working from home. Then Sam gave that option to the staff. Most took it so he closed the office and used that money towards increasing compensation and health benefits. Providing that work/life balance helps us recruit and retain quality employees.

How are you able to replace the productive “collisions” of a traditional office.
What makes it work for us is having the right technology to communicate with each other—Google Sites, Google Hangouts and Basecamp give us immediate access. Everybody knows their role and what’s expected from them. There are also policies and procedures on our Google site for most of what we do; new ideas for the way things should be run are put into our policies and procedures. Another really important thing—and I’m still learning—is to communicate clearly and concisely, taking into account the technology you’re using. Otherwise something can be interpreted in many ways. If there’s a problem, it’s best to pick up the phone.

Are your subscribers big on mobile?
We’ve surveyed readers and watch Google Analytics metrics. Most read the publications by email on a desktop. We check the websites and emails regularly on mobile devices though. We used to send the issues as PDF attachments. It was printer-friendly but caused deliverability issues and was not at all mobile friendly. Now we send the full articles in the body of the email with simple HTML coding along with a link to the password-protected PDF. Deliverability is better now, and the content is very easy to read and navigate on any device. Our only concern is copyright infringement since you can just click forward. What we do is remind readers of our copyright rule and include a message at the top telling them it’s illegal to forward. We also put a message on how to upgrade to a bulk subscription.

Is there anything that keeps you up at night, besides the soccer league?
Yes, dealing with parents can make someone lose sleep. Professionally, we suffered through the recession like everyone else. Now we’re bringing in more revenue with an eye to growth. It’s still tough though to be a small startup—a lot of work! I’m looking forward to the SIPA Conference because if we can learn more ways to grow revenue and bring in subscribers, I will definitely sleep better. And that’s what the conference is geared to.

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 .

SIIA Innovation Incubator Program Announces 2014 Finalists

SIIA announces finalists, and an alternate, for its Innovation Incubator Program. The program will be held during the 13th annual Education Industry Summit, the leading conference for the K-12 and postsecondary education technology market. The finalists will feature their products during the event, May 12-14 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Awards will be presented to the Most Innovative and Most Likely to Succeed, based on the votes of conference attendees. The Educator’s Choice Award will also be presented based on votes from educators and administrators from around the U.S., and SIIA will award prize packages from program partners to the award winners.

The SIIA Innovation Incubator Program identifies and supports entrepreneurs in their development and distribution of innovative learning technologies. The program began in 2006 and has provided support for dozens of successful products and companies in their efforts to improve education through the use of software, digital content, and related technologies. The program is open to applicants from academic and non-profit institutions, pre-revenue and early-stage companies, as well as established companies with newly developed technologies.

Innovation Incubator Program finalists were selected from the applicant pool based on key selection criteria, including:

  • Ability to positively impact end users of the product
  • Ability to succeed in the ed tech market
  • Level of originality and innovation

All Innovation Incubator finalists will present during the Business Profiles Presentations Monday afternoon, May 12, which is immediately followed by the Innovation Showcase & Networking Reception where they will be available for one-on-one product demonstrations and in-depth discussions.

Innovation Incubator Program participants are:

Capture Education - A scheduling software that reduces data entry tasks and allows real data driven decisions to be made.

Crowdmark Inc. - A document assessment web application that allows instructors, or teams of instructors to easily mark up and grade documents.

EDUonGo - A cloud-based platform that allows highly collaborative learning and educational sharing.

Million Dollar Scholar - An open online platform that delivers highly tailored scholarship opportunities to students in High School and College and empowers students to achieve those scholarships.

Mondokio International News - The next generation resource for news articles in the classroom, it allows for customization to avoid bias and allows students to consider multiple perspectives.

Mosa Mack: Science Detective - A web library of animated science materials that engages students with a mystery format for each lesson.

Nepris - A web-based platform that seamlessly connects curriculum, industry expertise, and classroom needs to engage students in STEM and expose them to real job skills and role models.

Promethean/Classflow – An integrated learning platform that enhances education productivity by orchestrating and streamlining a collaborative teaching and learning process.

Ranku- A discovery engine for online degrees, using personalized search through LinkedIn and Facebook to help adults find reputable online degrees from accredited universities.

Smart Science Education, incInteractive video based online science labs for grades 4-12 that supply online science labs where lab space, cost and time challenge the use of hands on labs.

Alternate: A state-of-the-art video website that provides teachers with daily, one-minute videos that help teach important social skills, create a healthier school climate and reduce bullying.

For more information about the Education Industry Summit, visit or contact Lindsay Harman at

Ohlhausen on Big Data and Consumer Harm

At today’s conference on Privacy Principles in the Era of Massive Data, co-sponsored by the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy and the Georgetown Law Center, Maureen K. Ohlhausen, Commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, delivered a thoughtful keynote address on The Power of Data.

She emphasized the value of the new computational techniques that arise in the context of data sets that are larger in volume than traditional data sets, that are composed of a greater variety of data types, and that change at a much faster velocity. These characteristics of volume, variety and velocity enable data scientists to generate insights that were previously impossible to anticipate from traditional static data bases.

This unanticipated quality of the new computational techniques challenges traditional notions of privacy protection. For instance, it creates a tension with the traditionally understood privacy principles of notice and purpose specification.  As Commissioner Ohlhausen pointed out succinctly, “…companies cannot give notice at the time of collection for unanticipated uses.”  These novel uses also challenge the idea that data collection should be minimized and data discarded as soon as possible:

“Strictly limiting the collection of data to the particular task currently at hand and disposing of it afterwards would handicap the data scientist’s ability to find new information to address future tasks.”

So what should the FTC do?  The Commissioner approvingly referenced the FTC’s action in the Spokeo case, where the agency fined the company for failure to follow the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Going forward she thinks that the FTC “should use its traditional deception and unfairness authority to stop consumer harms that may arise from the misuse of big data.”

SIIA agrees.  In our recent White Paper and comments filed with the FTC in their consumer scoring workshop we urged the Commission to use its existing powers under the current regulatory regime to bring bad actors to task for failing to follow consumer protection rules.   This can only help the growth of big data analysis by making sure that edge-riders do not tarnish the new computational techniques.

Moreover, the Commissioner thinks that the FTC should continue its convening role in holding workshops to explore “the nature and extent of likely consumer and competitive benefits and risks.”  In this regard, SIIA found the FTC’s March workshop insightful and looks forward to the Commission’s workshop in September on big data and low income and underserved consumers.

As to principles that should govern the FTC’s actions on big data going forward, the Commissioner was clear that the agency “must identify substantial consumer harm before taking action.”  SIIA endorses this idea that only a significant risk of substantial consumer harm justifies new regulatory action.

Ben Wittes from the Brookings Institution, commenting as part of the discussion panel that followed the Commissioner’s talk, echoed this theme of focusing on harm, instead of abstract notions of privacy.  In his view, when data use is outside of the normal social expectations of data use typical of the context in which the data has been collected, agencies should consider regulatory action only when the data use is hostile to the data subject’s interests.  Determining which uses are harmful, then, becomes a primary task for advocates, industry and policymakers.

Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology. Follow Mark on Twitter at @Mark_MacCarthy

How to innovate in product and content: highlights of DMIC14

How are other publishing and media businesses repackaging content and creating new products? At the Digital Media Innovation Conference in London, organised by the Information Industry Network, delegates heard about the experiences of Euromoney, Asset International, Les Echos, XpertHR, BVR, RSC and other media and publishing businesses. Here’s the highlights from the Innovation in Product and Content theatre on the day…

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Learning Takes Communication, in Technology and Other Areas

In a post last week on his excellent blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, Isaac Sacolick, the CIO/vice president, technology, for McGraw Hill Construction—and a member of SIIA’s Content and Information Services Division Board—began with, “Anyone who’s ever worked with me knows that I love spending time with developers.”

What should you be asking developers, whether they work with you or are contracted out? Sacolick writes that the questions should be simple—what are you working on now, who’s helping you? His favorite is, “How will your work help customers?” From that, he can tell if the work will be simplified enough for people to understand, if it will meet the requirements of customers, and if new ideas are being considered. (He also asks about code, but that answer may not help most of us.)

We—the technologically challenged among us—mention “developers” in passing a lot, but probably don’t engage with them enough. My friend Vick—a developer for Mitre, a large, not-for-profit research and solutions company—is such a good developer that when he moved to Paris for his wife’s new job, Mitre told him just work from there. But ask me what he develops and I couldn’t tell you.

In his Member Profile last month, Kevin Muha, CEO, Global Village Publishing, Inc. (GVPI), said that most of his 12 full-time people are developers. “We’re structured a little differently; our product managers are developers themselves. So if somebody asks a question, they can answer it. It cuts out a layer of management that causes delays.”

Part of GVPI’s success is that element of communication. The developers are answering questions and thus incorporating that into their solutions. Asked what advice he gives his customers, Muha said, “…understand who your customers are and how those customers want to use the information you’re selling. What are their needs? What guidance can you give them? What works well and what role does technology play in how your customers access content?”

Andy Swindler, who will be speaking on Optimizing Your Content Management System at the SIPA 2014: Strategies for Growth Conference, June 4-6, in Washington DC, once wrote this. “…I find myself describing technology as ‘doing’ these things, but of course technology is simply a tool, capable of nothing without human intervention. That’s how we tend to talk about technology, as though it has a mind of its own.”

Greg Krehbiel, director of marketing operations for The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc.—he will lead the session, Technology Vendors: How to Pick the Right Ones, at SIPA 2014—offered a list last year of questions to ask when considering new digital products. Does the user expect to interact with the content (with elements like quizzes and discussions)? Is the buyer the user? How will the buyer find this product?

The takeaway here is that you do not need to talk a developer’s language to communicate effectively, but you do need to communicate. In fact, knowing less may be a blessing sometimes. You get a better sense of how your customers will see it. Will they be getting what they need and can they understand what they are getting. ”I start off with some simple questions and use the responses to learn and challenge,” Sacolick writes.

One of Sacolick’s previous posts this year offered “5 Tips on Starting a Killer CIO-CMO Relationship,” so you can see how important he believes good communication between departments is. Another session at SIPA 2014 will focus on the editorial-marketing relationship, with two speakers from Access Intelligence’s CableFax. And we will also have the two founders of Melcrum, Robin Crumby and Victoria Mellor, speaking in separate sessions. Melcrum’s motto? “We’re in the business of smarter Internal Communication.”

To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.

Ronn LevineRonn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009

Piketty’s Historical Perspective on Economic Inequality

The debate over income inequality and job loses in the U.S. too often devolves to overly simplistic and narrow arguments. Thankfully, deeper and more thoughtful analyses are emerging, and one of those — French economist Thomas Piketty’s recently-translated book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century — is making waves, at least among the center-left of the political spectrum in the United States.  And it is a major contribution to the inequality debate.  He takes a historical view of inequality, arguing that:

“When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.”

This long-term trend, he says, accounts for the dramatic growth of economic inequality over the last thirty years. Piketty’s historical perspective reminds us that, in seeking to understand decades-long economic trends, we might be taking a view that is too narrow and too short-term.  It is worth keeping a wider perspective when it comes to thinking of possible policy responses to these trends.

This wider perspective, backed by detailed analyses of new historical data sets, promises to generate some spirited debate in the coming years.  It provides a useful counterpoint, moreover, to the continuing drum beat of articles and books, such as the very thoughtful best-selling The Second Machine Age, linking job loss and economic inequality to the more recent spread of high technology and software throughout modern economies.

The reality of inequality is far more complex.  For one thing, generalized talk of economic inequality masks several different recent developments: a fall in labor’s share of total income, an increase in the share of compensation going to top executives, and an increase in economic inequality among employees.

Moreover, short-term causal factors that might contribute to these different types of inequality are hard to disentangle.  The rise in inequality has been associated with the intensification of skills-biased technology, which increases the demand for skilled workers, and to globalization, which decreases the bargaining power of workers and decreases the pricing leverage of companies. Now, a recent study links inequality to another recent development the authors call financialization: an increase in the extent to which non-financial corporations in the United States earn income from providing financial services in addition to the core products and services that they also provide. How financialization relates to these other factors needs further study.

The role of software needs to be assessed in a fuller way as well. Too often software is linked to job loss based on nothing more than casual empiricism – like noting that if there are fewer accountants, it must be because of accounting software.  The net effect of software on job creation can’t be established simply by noticing that a job that used to take several people can now be done by one person and some software.  Unfortunately, this is how too many people approach the current debate.  The reality is that, as software spreads through the economy, it contributes to GDP, exports and employment in myriad direct and indirect ways.  SIIA will continue to examine the role of software in the economy in the coming year.

Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology. Follow Mark on Twitter at @Mark_MacCarthy

Big Data Improves Education Around the World

A recent article by the head of the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank Group, urged the responsible use of big data analytics to improve student learning around the world. IFC works in more than 100 developing countries supporting companies and financial institutions to create jobs and contribute to economic growth.  Supporting improved education is one of their strategic priority programs.

The IFC article highlighted several initiatives that they are supporting:

  • Bridge International Academies in Kenya uses adaptive learning on a large scale in its 259 nursery and primary schools, with monthly tuition averaging $6. By deploying two versions of a lesson at the same time in a large number of classrooms, Bridge can determine which lesson is most effective and then distributes that lesson throughout the rest of its network.
  • SABIS provides K-12 education in 15 countries including in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. It mines large data sets for more than 63,000 students, collecting more than 14 million data points on annual student academic performance that are used to shape instruction and achieve learning objectives.
  • Knewton is an adaptive learning platform that partners with companies like Pearson, Cengage, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Wiley to personalize digital courses using predictive analytics.

These uses of big data analytics will improve learning in developing countries and the IFC should take pride in its leadership role in spreading these techniques around the globe.

Some are concerned that the new use of data for improved learning threatens student privacy. As a recent Wall Street article says:

“Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to using data in schools isn’t technological, though. Rather, it’s the fear that doing so will invade the privacy of students.”

The IFC recognizes the concern and urges policymakers to get out in front of the issue and to design privacy protections into big data projects from the ground up to make sure that the information is used appropriately to support learning:

“To realize those benefits – and to do so responsibly – we must ensure that data collection is neither excessive nor inappropriate, and that it supports learning. The private sector, governments, and institutions such as the World Bank Group need to formulate rules for how critical information on student performance is gathered, shared, and used. Parents and students deserve no less.”

SIIA agrees.  As part of our effort to encourage privacy by design in the educational context, we recently published our recommended best practices for providers of educational services to schools, focusing on the need for an educational purpose, transparency, proper authorization and security in the use of student information.

The Administration’s review of privacy and big data is examining this issue in general and as it applies to student privacy.  We look forward to working with them to make sure that the promise of better learning for the world’s students is fulfilled through the responsible use of big data analytics.

Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology. Follow Mark on Twitter at @Mark_MacCarthy